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Sunday message 27 August 2017 – Romans series Part 5 – Let them use their gifts

READING: Romans 12:3-18

MESSAGE

So –  you’ve been waiting for the winner of the competition for shortest sermon of the year.

Me too. The thing is I get excited about the treasures we find in Scripture. Psalm 19 makes it clear – this is gold. Look at the number of words describing how rich God’s word to us is: Psa 19:7  The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psa 19:8  The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. Psa 19:9  The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Psa 19:10  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

So what do we glean today from Romans 12? What new  treasures. Sweetness. Richness.

Quite a lot really.

Those who offer themselves as living sacrifices (see last week’s message) – in service or 24/7 worship – giving glory to – God, acknowledging his worth –  that He is worthy of all recognition and praise, have all kinds of options to make this practical.

In relation to God’s infinite greatness in rescuing us and receiving the credit in or praise and thanksgiving, we must however look out that we don’t make ourselves as important as God. That after all is the Adam and Eve trap – wanting to be like God. Or making ourselves equal to God (compare Jesus in Phil 2 – Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, Php 2:7  but made himself nothing ).

So – verse 3 could keep us busy today: Rom 12:3  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

You could lay this alongside Philippians 2 again:

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others

While we are living sacrifices worshipping God every day at work and play, we are to put ourselves into perspective in the context of the body of Christ – the church.

Rom 12:4  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, Rom 12:5  so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Paul then proceeds to talk about giftedness. You see this humility is not self-loathing or hiding one’s light under a bushel or a bowl because the tall poppy syndrome makes you think your light is useless.

We have gifts, he says. Use them.

That’s why churches put people to use. Not because we are obsessed with our programs. People then become commodities.

No, rather because we are obsessed with the generous grace of God. “Grace” means “gift”.

Charismata – from which we get the word “charismatic” is the word for “gifts” in the plural.

Ephesians 4 lists people gifts. Pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet. 1 Corinthians 12 lists “spirituals” including tongues, prophecy, healing etc.

Romans 12 lists people’s gifting. Simply put – if a person has gift A, then let him use it in proportion to his faith. In other words as he or she trusts God to make that gift fruitful.

The list is there:

Rom 12:6  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

Rom 12:7  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;

Rom 12:8  if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

What do you notice about these gifts?

They are all for the benefit of others.

Prophecy – in 1 Corinthians 14 terms needs three things to be genuine. (Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 1 Cor 14:3)

Serving – serves others. (versus self-serving)

Teaching is about the learners learning. (Tired teachers miss this! “School is so nice when the kids are on holiday!”)

Encouragement obviously helps the recipients to keep going! They need to be helped not to give up!

Contributing to the needs of others is obviously for others.

Leadership – is meant to help people follow! It’s for the group, not the leader. (As the saying goes – if you’re out front leading and no one is following you’re – you’re really just out for a walk.)

And mercy – well that too is to be shown cheerfully. Interesting idea – you can’ really show mercy with a gloomy grumpy attitude. Would seem a bit strange if we said: “Ah well I suppose I’d better be merciful. Sigh. You don’t deserve it and i don’t feel like it, but there it is””

In a word –  this is not all about you and me! And your and my needs. It’s about the needs of others.

Strangely obvious really.

But for some reason people don’t pick up on it.

They are locked into the thinking of the age – their minds are clearly not transformed (Romans 12:2) – because it’s all about them. Consumer Christianity abounds.

So much time wasted because people are “not having their needs met”.

Now don’t get me wrong. We should be helping people grow in faith. But they should be able to feed themselves too – like children learn to feed themselves physically.

Serving, teaching and encouraging should be working for people’s good.

But note that this is a letter to the church in Rome. Not to Timothy or some individual – or to elders or pastors.

These people gifts are, to put it bluntly, often hiding in the pew. As the story goes – church is a bit like football (aka soccer) – 22 people charging around on the field in great need of a rests, and 22 000 others in the stands in great need of exercise.

THE PAST

So when we have our ACM today and receive reports about what we have managed to do through the past year – remember that we are looking back.

And let’s be honest financial accountability is a key part of this – with a dose of transparency. And a lot of gratitude for the resources we have. And that especially includes people.

When we meet at this meeting today – whether you stay or not this applies. If for some reason you have been left out in the long lists of thanks. Please remember – it’s probably just an oversight.

Remember this too – it’s not about me. Or you. It’s about giving glory to God. And being a blessing to others. And as Jesus taught in Luke 17: Luk 17:10  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

THE FUTURE

Point 2 of the sermon is really a question. How are you doing when it comes to using the gifts God has given you?

Sometimes the only one stopping you using your gifts is you.

If you have a desire to be part of the future teams making things work here so that we can reach people here and beyond with good news, and help care for those who do need encouragement and mercy because life can be tough – please use the gifts God has given you in proportion to your faith.

As you step out and have a go, your faith will become stronger too.

It’s a wonderful ride and great to be part of a team of which it can be said – we are working on Romans 12:9-18. Sincere love, brotherly love and devotion, harmony and peace – well you can read the rest of those verses. We don’t get it all right. But we really do have a heart for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done in this place. (I recommend that you read Romans 12:11-18 as you reflect on this through the week.)

Amen.

 

 

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Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

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

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

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

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

Some churches end up as monuments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to Timothy Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

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

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

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

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

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

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

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Passion Sunday 13 April 2014 – a gracious self-abandonment

Readings: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27: 11-54

Sermon

We sang a hymn on Tuesday that is 1200 years old. We didn’t do a great job as the words on the computer were a little scrambled. But we got it right in the end.

The passage in Philippians 2 we heard today is even older.

And yes it is deemed to be one of the oldest hymns of the Christian church. We know that the early church sang hymns from the New Testament itself (as did Jesus – you may remember that they sang a hymn on the night Jesus was betrayed – before they went up the Mount of Olives?)

Mat 26:26  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Mat 26:27  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. Mat 26:28  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mat 26:29  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Mat 26:30  When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

We also know from Roman documents – like Pliny:

Pliny the Younger as governor of Bithynia about half a century later (c. 110 CE) reported to his superior, the emperor Trajan, that he was investigating the group who called themselves Christians. Among other harmless things that they do, he reports, they assemble very early in the morning, before dawn, to “sing hymns to Christ as if to a god” (Pliny, Letters 10.96.7).

Good reason to come to the sunrise service on Easter Sunday at 6.30am!

The Philippian passage is this:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Php 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul uses this hymn in a teaching way – not as a statement of what we are to believe about Jesus.

The distinction between believing ABOUT Jesus and believing IN Jesus is really important. We can say the apostle’s creed because it clarifies what we believe ABOUT Jesus.

We put our trust in Him and in that way believe IN JESUS.

Paul is writing to Christians and telling them what will make him happy – or give him joy.

The answer? Being like Jesus as you follow him.

Paul talks about being “in Christ” – “if anyone is IN CHRIST he or she is a new creation”( 2 Cor 5:17).

We participate in his death and resurrection.

We enter into the fellowship of his body – where all the parts matter (we rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffer – 1 Cor 12).

So Paul says here – not as an ethical or moral injunction (follow Jesus and imitate Him because he was a good guy) – that we should make him happy (complete his joy) by being like Jesus! It’s the natural consequence of belonging to Jesus! Living in Jesus! Dying with Jesus. Being raised to newness of life with Jesus. Having eternal life now – knowing God through Jesus! What did I say last week about this? You can’t remain unmoved – un-animate! You come to life.

This life is seen IN JESUS.

SO listen to the first verses – verses 1 to 4: 

Php 2:1  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

We began at verse 5 today:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus 

Verse 6 continues

Christ Jesus – who…. 

And then comes the hymn:

Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Php 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There are a number of links that we can make with other New Testament and Old Testament passages here. Remember that we don’t interpret the bible in the light of what we think – but in the light of the rest of the bible!

  1. The suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 53. There are clear links to these verses about the one who “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (53:3.) And in verse 12: he poured out his soul to death – like Phil 2:7  he emptied himself/made himself nothing. 

And the servant passages elsewhere in the gospels, like this pivotal passage:

Mar 10:43  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

Mar 10:44  and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  1. The first and second Adam of 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22, 45-49 and Romans 5:12-14. And of course Genesis 3 – the first Adam grasp at power – the second one relinquishes it.
  1. Humility in other passages:

2Co 8:9  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

  1. The call to obedience in Scripture and in post-biblical Judaism. There was an understanding that the righteous were called to suffer- especial between the testaments in the time of the Macabees where people were tortured and killed for their faith, but expected vindication in the next life from the Lord.

This is Jesus who empties himself – this is the incarnation that John describes in these verses:

Joh 1:14  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Thus Jesus is exalted! Here’s the dangerous part for us:

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It’s the one place that Paul talks about Jesus at the head of the whole universe – as opposed to head of the church.

He has the name that is above every other name!

At his name every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord – to the glory of God the Father.

What is this confession?

A faith statement ABOUT HIM – “o yes Jesus is the one”

A believing statement IN HIM (Do you remember the song “he is Lord?” – we used to sing in the early days of personalised ascriptive singing: “You’re my Lord, you’re my Lord….” And it felt SO NICE!

Does it mean – what I think that many people believe it means – that one day they will all be forced to bow before Jesus (as we rub our hands together with glee feeling that we too will be vindicated?).

Paul uses this hymn – which is clearly a hymn about Jesus as Lord (remember Pliny’s letter about Christians who  “assemble very early in the morning, before dawn, to “sing hymns to Christ as if to a god”?)

Paul uses it to tell the Christians what will really make him happy! This is the heart of the Christian life – this will make my joy complete! Remember he says:

Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

And then verse 5:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus

When you hear the long reading of the passion of Jesus – that’s what Paul’s talking about.

Not a triumphalism. But serving like Jesus – in humility – without selfish ambition and vain conceit. In unity – like minded and being one in spirit and purpose.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion… then do all this….

A commentator, Thomas A. Langford, has expressed this as clearly and as succinctly as is possible.

In Jesus we find embodied the self-giving of God to persons and the self-giving of a person to other persons. Jesus is the Lord who is servant, and Jesus is the servant who is Lord. As the Lord who is servant, Jesus identifies with human life so as to establish a redemptive relationship.

 As servant who is Lord, Jesus calls us to acknowledge his lordship through our servanthood. The grace of God in Jesus Christ calls us to a graciousness which is a self-abandonment to the love of God and the love of the neighbour.

 A graciousness

A self-abandonment.

So may it be with us.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 27 October – Always and only by grace, through faith, in love… (Reformation Sunday)

Luke 18:9-14

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collectoricon pharisee tax man

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Reformation Sunday!

It’s Reformation Sunday! By all rights I should be speaking about FAITH ALONE, THE BIBLE ALONE, AND GRACE ALONE! The text could be Romans 3 – how all have sinned. And how we are saved by faith.

Instead we’re back to prayer!

In a sense prayer is everything – the outcome of all the issues that the reformers fought over – add up to this one thing. You and I have direct access to God.

And the conflict of Luther with the Catholic church of his day is neatly portrayed in these two characters:

  • The Pharisee
  • The Publican (or tax collector).

The one basis his relationship with God on his achievements. The other has nothing to offer – except to plead for mercy. The first is about salvation by works – the second salvation by faith, through grace.

Over the past couple of weeks we have looked at the loving kindness of God – his mercies that are new every morning. And we have looked at that persistent widow knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.

Today’s parable takes this further. We loved the story of the widow – because we like supporting the outsider, the underdog. Kiwis love this – they don’t like people who are too full of themselves – like the judge who didn’t care too hoots about God or people.

But we are stretched today.

Because the guy who walks away from the prayer time justified is a pretty bad guy really.

A publican. A tax collector. In a modern version of the story it would be like some terrible occupying army from Australia or the old Soviet Russia controlling our lives from day to day and taking our money. And one of our own working for the occupiers – and people from your own side would come knocking at your door to take your money – and extra for themselves.

This is a recipe for valid resentment, rejection, revolt, revision of your values – I mean why should you give these kinds of people time of day?

Think of other teachings of Jesus – like walking the extra mile. The contrast is equally radical! A Roman soldier had every right to make you carry his heavy pack for a mile. No more. And you would hate that – that sense of powerlessness and being trapped by other peoples’ rules.

Jesus says – carry the pack two miles! This is extending grace to an enemy and an occupier – one who threatened all you stand for and believe!

So the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying is also radical.

It’s a church goer who shows up and does the stuff – paying their 10 percent (we could do with more faithful people paying their ten percent here! ) and a rotten deceptive sneaky embezzler coming into church – like one of those guys who sold you a great investment – only for you to see your retirement money gone in a flash.

Everything in us wants to punish those horrible people.

REFORMATION SUNDAY

Lucky for us this is Reformation Sunday! All have sinned (Romans 3:23) – that’s the point. Romans 6:23 talks about the gift of God. Romans 8:1 declares those in Christ to be free from condemnation.

It’s actually about grace! Unmerited favour and lots of forgiveness.

How good to see our mayor in the local paper this week – saying that he has received real compassion from Christians in Auckland.

Oh we should be careful not to judge!

THE DETAILS OF THE CONTRAST

Look at Luke again:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable

Well that’s a good warning – as self-righteousness is a serious problem. So too looking down on everyone else. I guess that’s pride or arrogance.

The prayer itself needs examination:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

We may think – gosh these Pharisees were bad – what a bad attitude?

And yet we are equally dismissive of the three categories

  • Robbers – creative bunch. We’ve opened our home to homeless people – and they’ve wandered off with our things! (Tell the story of the Smiths in Witbank – or the thief that came back after being prayed for… )
  • Evildoers – nice broad category really. We tut tut and the terrible things people do these days – forgetting that this is nothing new. Sometimes you read these historical quotes about bad people and you think it’s something written yesterday – only to find it came of some Pharaoh’s tomb or the writing was found on the wall of a cave dating back thousands of years!
  • Adulterers – gosh Auckland has been really in a tailspin about this one and our mayor.  Trouble is Jesus again – look at what he said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).

Tricky one isn’t it?

And of course the Pharisee lists his strengths! And they show discipline and generosity don’t they.

But it’s this line that gives away the arrogance: God, I thank you that I am not like other people…

And that’s exactly how Luke introduces this story: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.

What we need to really examine is verse 13:

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The heart of the matter is humility. I have real issues with this. Humility is the virtue, the attitude that enables people to follow leadership, to trust others’ judgement, and to be teachable.

Being teachable – just by the way – is the thing that I look for in people – especially leaders. You may remember the acronym FAT – I’m looking for Fat people. Faithful, available and teachable!

What can we say about humility?

Lack of humility – its antithesis – is probably pride. Its part of every marriage argument, every case of broken relationships. And its there in the hearts of people who can’t for the life of anyone see the need to have God in their lives.

Because they are self-sufficient!

The longer I serve Him – the more inadequate I feel in myself.

Sin is there because we are sinners by nature.

And the inner battle goes on until the day Jesus takes us home.

So how is your prayer life going?

Persistence (last week – from the story of the unjust judge who got a black eye from a  little old widow).

Be careful that persistence doesn’t come from a sense of entitlement and pride – that you think you actual deserve your prayers to be answered.

Luke 18:14  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Too many of us get the words of the song confused – the one that goes like this…  I’m thinking of the Michael Smith Song – It’s all about you Jesus. It’s called “The heart of worship”. The chorus goes like this:

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus

Too many of us change the words and sing” And it’s all about me, it’s all about me Jesus…”

You get the point. Bruce Larson gives us this formula to help us get the humility thing right. We’ll end with this:

Being a new being in Christ means reversing our natural tendencies. Someone once said to me, “Larson, do you know what’s wrong with you? You judge other people by their actions and yourself by your intentions. If you could reverse that, it would change your life.” Since then I’ve been trying to judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Try judging yourself not by what you meant, but by what you did—which is how people perceive you. That’s a giant step on the way to humility.

And on this Reformation Sunday there is one extra thing – central concept – that is here:

The humble man went home justified before God”. (v14)

Justification is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in his letters, especially His letter to the Roman church.

He was made righteous because his sin was blotted out! Pardoned.

That’s the heart of it.

It’s a dangerous parable. I last preached on it on the Sunday I came here with a view to a call. I did a pretty bad job of the sermon. And some of the people rated me badly and voted against me coming!

You see you rated me and decide whether I was okay or not. Clearly that is the grace of God (if it was based on the rating of that sermon!) Most – almost all -voted to have me as pastor here! 🙂

We’re always rating each other.

And on that Sunday I preached I warned of the danger here.

That all too easily we might say – “I thank God that I am a repentant sinner and not like that arrogant Pharisee!”

Justification by faith – the heart of the reformation – is what it is. We don’t deserve God’s love – and it is bounteous. I once tried to quantify it in a children’s chapel. We had glasses, then buckets, then wheely bins to answer the question – how much love is there?

The answer is – it reaches to the heavens – and to the end of the universe – to the multiverses out there – and beyond – way beyond where the Star Ship Enterprise and Captain Kirk will ever go.

What a relief! Enjoy this love today and always!

God bless you as you seek Him.

Sunday 1 September – Signs of the Kingdom

Readings: Psalm 112:1-9; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-17; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

So about the Kingdom of God.

The one that we are told to strive for – to seek first?

Any vague memories from last week? There you go – it’s coming back to you! Well done!

It’s a bit like an upside down cake. What matters is not on the surface.

I mean think about a genuine upside-down cake.  (Not the recipes that have all the fruit slices on the top). I’m thinking of a normal iced cake. Flip it over – and the icing is at the bottom. Weird hey.

WHEN JESUS IS KING

When Jesus is King – your values and ethics change.

That does not mean that the Kingdom of God is purely about ethics – about doing good or being different. They are signs of the Kingdom – just as the church at worship is a sign of the Kingdom – so too changed lives are signs of the Kingdom.

When Jesus is King – we become different. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:

2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  2Co 3:18  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

It’s not just our inner transformation – it’s a change in lifestyle. And one of the noticeable things is how we invest our time and money. How we treat people – especially the needy.

 

1.       Psalm 112 is an example from the readings set today. The interesting thing is that it is one of the coupled Psalms. You need to read Psalm 111 as part of it. The first part of the coupled Psalm is about the greatness of God and what God has done for us – the second, what we have as Psalm 112 – is about the consequences for people who fear this God. What will it be like for them:  listen to verses 4 and 5:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

One gets the feeling that these Godly people are nice to have around. That’s a key part of our witness as Christians. We are to conduct our affairs with justice – just like the people of God back in Psalm 112.

Tragically – many Christian businessmen don’t have good reputations. That is all. It’s true.

We on the other hand – because of the amazing grace which comes to us – are gracious to others – compassionate and generous. The kingdom works its way out in our daily lives. Or should do.

 

2.       The second reading is also rather lovely. Have a look at the Hebrews reading.

Are you like this? Let the Holy Spirit work in your life – lining you up with the Kingdom of God and the King who makes us his body and hands – his feet and voice in the world – and people will see this in you and me:

“Keeping on” loving one another. You don’t give up even when your brother is a pain in the brain. And elsewhere!

Hospitality. Man I keep coming back to this – because God is speaking about it and I need to tell you what he says! And here’s the wonderful thing about this word – and why it is such a Kingdom word.

The verse says: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 

That puts us on our guard!  Here’s what it means:  It actually says – Don’t forget φιλοξενιας.  Philoxenia.  Remember xenophobia?  Fear of strangers? It‘s the opposite of this! It means loving strange people!

I love it! (Applause)!

We are to keep on loving each other and loving the strange too! Get it?

The writer to the Hebrews – after writing 12 chapters about what Jesus has done for us (a bit like Paul’s letter to the Romans) ends with these gems about the consequences of the grace of God and the coming of the Kingdom in our lives;

  • Keep on loving each other as brothers
  • Love the strange! (We have a dear friend called Ken Strange! I must send him this sermon!)
  • Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
  • Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure (New Zealand!).
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have (because God is with you people!) IN fact it’s the best bit in the passage. It goes like this (in the rest of verse 5 and verse 6):

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

And then the writer goes on:

  • Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (challenging for us leaders!). Later he says obey your leaders! (v 17).  “Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”  Amen to that! I’d like my work to be a joy – and not the cause of burnout and stress!

The Kingdom of God has clear values! And when Jesus is King in your life – things are like this!

3.       The Gospel reading is the cherry on our upside down cake today.

If you want Kingdom values – watch Jesus interact with the people of his day who thought they had it all sorted. Listen to Jesus on these issues!

Man I’ve just been 15 000 kilometres to a wedding. And the issue of where people sit is a big deal!

So in my niece’s wedding they had a seating plan!

In my old job they had seating plans for special events and banquets – and they always put me with the people that no one else wanted around!  I love it! They actually got something right!

I landed up with people who had fallen on hard times and not made their millions like the rest.  The ones who were different and interesting!

In those days honour and disgrace were big issues! You needed to keep in with the right people – in any case you might have to negotiate to marry off one of your kids to that family!

Listen again:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests.

 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Here’s the meat in the Kingdom of God sandwich.

We don’t have to be the cream cheese in this world!

Wealth, beauty, importance and influence are not key Kingdom values.

Humility now! Honour later! We will judge the world with Jesus later! (1 Corinthians 6:2 – Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?)

Later matters. Listen to the investment we are called to make:  12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

How are you doing in investing in people who can’t pay you back!

Do it for the sake of what is right! Not for a return invitation!

This is probable what it means to be the salt of the earth!

We bring flavour to a tasteless society. People notice – and are drawn to that kind of generosity as they were drawn to Jesus! There were always people around him! And then he could speak into their lives – as can we – about the Kingdom of God!

Yay God! Amen!