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Sunday Sermon, 26 June 2016 – “I will follow Him”

Reading: Luke 9:51-62

SERMON

This will bring back some memories – the song “I will follow Him” from Sister Act:

Don’t you love that number? For once you are allowed to yell out “whoopee!”

“I will follow him.”

Will you really?

The training of Jesus’ first disciples in Luke 9 and 10 is a fascinating series of successes and blunders. In the gospels overall – it’s your typical training scenario. Ups and downs – moments of success and real stupidity.

You can’t really blame them for wanting to call down fire from heaven on those inhospitable Samaritans. They were the equivalent of various disliked groups for some people today – it seems legitimate to take them out.

I had coffee with an old student this week who joined the army reserve here in NZ and has an Arabic surname that begins with Al. You can imagine some of his army trainers and their attitudes – especially when he filled in a form and said his religion was Muslim/Presbyterian. They had some questions for him. It’s a great story.

We know the whole story of the New Testament which they didn’t have back then – we know that Good Samaritans actually exist. And we are not keen on ethnic cleansing.

So Jesus does have a little word with James and John – who are not called the sons of thunder for nothing.

He basically rebukes them.

That’s the first challenge today.

Perhaps we have attitudes that need rebuking. If you follow Jesus – you really have to tow the party line as it were.

John Wesley’s comment on this passage was this: “‘Ye know not what manner of spirit’ – The spirit of Christianity is. It is not a spirit of wrath and vengeance, but of peace, and gentleness, and love.”

The key word which unlocks the whole passage I suspect is found in verse 51:

Luke 9:51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Resolutely is the word. It also means to set your face firmly or steadfastly – it’s about a decision on Jesus’ part to go to the place where he will ultimately die. And it’s quite early on really in the narrative.

The followers of Jesus are expected to have the same steadiness of purpose. Single mindedness if you like.

So they move on to another village – and there are three encounters with would-be disciples. Remember that a disciple is essentially two things – a follower and a learner.

Either way it is a costly business – as these examples illustrate.

One he calls to follow him.

Two volunteer.

Like the Sister Act song – the first volunteer says exactly that: – “wherever you go.”

Luk 9:57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus doesn’t reply in an English accent, “O how lovely” or like a kiwi with a : “Sweet as!”

Luk 9:58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Warning bells should sound for the reader of the gospel – Jesus is resolutely going to Jerusalem where he will die.

Jesus’ response may seem blunt – but that’s the reality. There can be no expectation of payoff for being a disciple. Rather – you could end up homeless. Despised and rejected.

The second follower Jesus calls.

The man’s response seems reasonable. Let me bury my father first. The commandments made it clear that people were to honour their parents. And many of us do exactly that – we put our plans on hold to care for aging parents.

We don’t know whether the person’s father was ill or had in fact died.

Either way Jesus’ response is a tough one.

Luk 9:60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Suddenly the lines are drawn. It’s not the church that is central here. In fact, Jesus says very little about the church.

He’s not bothered about the spaces between our chairs and rows here.

He’s interested in whether we buy into the Kingdom values and principles that we pray for in the Lord’s prayer – “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” – the Kingdom that he spoke about when he said “no worries, be happy by seeking first the Kingdom of God”…

I’m not sure that he was insensitive to the bereaved or those who care for aging parents and put their lives on hold for a season.

I think what he means is that spiritual things are central – let the spiritually dead deal with the other things that are not lasting – that are not important in the bigger scheme of things.

We need to be at peace with what is gone – and embrace what lies before us as we embrace the kingdom.

Different principles, values, morals, ethics, and purpose for living. Passion!

  • People who stand for light and truth in the midst of darkness and deception.
  • Love and grace in the face of hatred and bitterness.
  • Worship and gratitude in the face of grumbling and grabbing – that grasping entitlement of this generation and indeed this nation.

Our third potential customer in this passage is another volunteer. Listen again:

Luk 9:61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Luk 9:62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Here’s the thing. Even Elisha was allowed to go back to his family to say goodbye before he took up his prophetic mantle (1 Kings 19:19-21).

Being a disciple of Christ is a stronger calling, Not everyone endures to the end. People fall by the wayside. They look back. (Lot’s wife comes to mind).

Jesus does us a favour to warn us that we should not start something and give up half way.

If we start ploughing and look back with regret – we’re not fit for service.

Failed WOF basically. We get yellow-stickered – taken off the road.

You have to look ahead – otherwise the field ends up in a mess with a track behind us that is all over the place.

We too have to set our faces towards Jerusalem – the heavenly city. Towards a loftier goal of a new Kingdom and life in Christ.

And on the road we too have to confront all that which contradicts the truths of the kingdom – just as Jesus did – he had to speak out prophetically to the religious establishment more than anything else – he confronts them and eventually turns over their tables – with a desire to reform and rescue them.

So should we. In fact its one of my jobs – to challenge people in their stuckness.

Two out of three of these people in the passage today were volunteers. It seemed good at the time. One Jesus called – and he too was a dubious starter.

How are you doing? How’s your single-mindedness? Not for your pet theory, but for Jesus? “All for Jesus” is the song we sang.

How’s your passion? Passion is caught, not taught. We need some infectious passion for Jesus and His Kingdom.

Amen.

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10 March 2015 Tuesday Church – For all nations…

Reading: Mark 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Message – Easter

Easter is just around the corner. It’s been closer than you think for some months – considering how early Easter eggs appear on the shelves in our shops.

In the story as Mark tells it, Jesus had come into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and had gone out again to Bethany. The next day he comes back into the city – it’s a kind of sortie into a dangerous place really. The authorities would be aware of him – considering all the fuss when he road into the city on a donkey. And now he comes to the heart of the nation – the temple. Well listen again:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

We sometimes think it’s just about the money – that they were cheating the poor when they sold animals for sacrifices to them – or exchanging money and giving them a bad rate.

The thing is – He wasn’t really changing the system – the trading would have carried on the next day.

The real challenge was to the heart of the nation. Listen again:

17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

The real issue was that God was not stuck in the temple and fussing over them alone as the chosen people. Even Solomon when he built his temple said this: 1 Kings 8:27  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! That was on the day of the consecration of the temple!

It was more the teaching that stirred up the opposition. It was a threat. The house of prayer “for all nations” sounds like a real concern for others outside of the family of Israel. And it wasn’t just about the money tables, as if you can separate money from spiritual things.

The chief priests and teachers of the law begin looking for ways to kill him – because they feared him. They didn’t want the crowd to follow him because they would lose control. It was all about power.

How strange that they “feared him” – this man of compassion and love who healed the sick and taught them about God as Father.

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy of course. Tom Wright says this about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple:

But Jesus’ protest was far deeper, and if we applied it today it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the lawcourts and legislative assemblies, the royal palaces and banking centres, the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outwards in generosity towards the world. That’s where Jesus wants to stride today, to turn over tables and drive out traders. *

Amen.

* Wright, N. T. (2004-01-01). Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 153). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Sunday sermon 1 December 2013 (Advent 1) – Hope

(The Word Isaiah saw – and hope today)

Readings:

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

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

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

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

Sermon.

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

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

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

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

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

Advent is about openness and anticipation.

And this week we focus on hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So too body language – it speaks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But who will believe this:

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

UN Isaiah wall reduced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah says in verse 3:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!

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Sunday sermon 17 November – Temples, Troubles and Testimonies

churchReading:  Luke 21:5-19

Sermon

A story to begin: So Jesus comes to Browns Bay Presbyterian. And it’s just before the 50th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone here. 2015. The anniversary committee has worked hard to refurbish the place. We celebrate the lives of all who have put their money into the work here. Generous and hard-working people. And Jesus says in a rather offhand manner – “It will all be destroyed one of these days. Not one block or brick will be left standing on another”. All gone!

Spoiling the party? Maybe. That’s basically what verse 5 and 6 of Luke 21 says: Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.

As he said back then: (But Jesus said,) 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’

The altar of the temple would have been beautifully adorned, and each stone carefully cut. He had watched the rich give their offerings and the poor widow who gave her all – jus before this.

And that temple – well it took longer to build than our church building has been standing here.  When Jesus refers to it in John’s gospel – it had been undergoing 46 years of rebuilding begun by Herod and was not yet finished.

Jesus had already alarmed them when he said in John 2:19-20: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

And of course in Matthew  – in the context over a discussion about the Sabbath – he also said:  “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” (Matt 12:6)

Like people today – they are really interested in the timing of these things. v7 ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

How do we know when this will happen? All those movies about the apocalype and the end of the world speak of our facination with this theme.

How do we know WHEN? Well that’s a tricky thing really. By the time Luke wrote this down (remember that initially everything was by word of mouth) the temple would have been destroyed by the Romans – in AD 70. Part of these words were fufilled back then – and part speak of things yet to come (like the book of Revelation).

Jesus is happy to give them an answer:

v8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. v9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

v10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. v11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

v12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

For years ever since these words were spoken – people have been speculating about the end times. All kinds of people have sold everything up and waited in white robes on a hillside for Jesus to beam them up – only to come down cold and hungry after a few days to look for a job or apply for a benefit.

Mark 13:32 is a key verse here:   “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  This verse has fascinating implications and raises interesting questions for the curious. Jesus didn’t know back then – as a human being. Does he know now? Or does the Father still keep his cards close to his chest.

Speculation about when is not helpful if this knowledge is such a closely guarded secret.

There are important points that we can be sure of however.

1.      Here’s the first key thing that comes out of all these passages:

  Watchfulness! Be alert! Mark’s passage goes on:

Mar 13:33  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Mar 13:34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Mar 13:35  “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

Mar 13:36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

Mar 13:37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!'”

One way or another – this could be your last day – and you should always keep short accounts and be ready!

2.      Here’s the second key thing: Nothing is permanent. The temple – built so carefully with all those beautiful gifts – is only a shell – what happened in it matters.

So too this church. It’s all temporary. Ask the people of Christchurch. Ask the people washed away by that Tsunami in Japan. As the people of the Philippines today. They will testify to the temporary nature of things material.

I know last week we acknowledged those who have been faithful in stewardship and support of the ministry here – and that we benefit from the generosity of others in having use of our facilities.

But don’t place too much emphasis on stuff – like buildings. The whole lot will eventually come down. Like the Temple.

The Kingdom of God is about other things. People – relationships – love – and mostly worship of God and seeking to do and be what he wants us to do or be.

Our home group shared about faith and action this week – about random acts of kindness – about serving others – like last week’s message about sacrificial love  – that’s what matters.

3.      And the final key point – is this. This is an opportunity to testify! Here’s the rest of the passage:

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me.14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The third point is in verse 13.

13 And so you will bear testimony to me. – in the NIV. A better translation in the NRSV is this:

13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.  This is about opportunities to testify.

And the context is not a church service where people give a testimony. Rather it is when we are brought before the authorities – because of our faith.

Christendom is dead. Christianity is no longer the religion of the Empire – from the Roman Empire to the British Empire – it was fashionable and socially acceptable to be a Christian. It is no longer. One of the hardest places today to be a Christian is in Britain – where many of our ancestors came from. And in Post-Christian Europe. And it is becoming progressively harder in our country.

Instead of lamenting this – we need to see that like the early church we have an alternative story – a different narrative – a God-perspective on life.

Testifying for them – back during those phases before Constantine where Christians were persecuted on and off (depending on who was Emperor at the time) – bearing testimony was closely related to martyrdom. In fact the word in the original text is marturion.

What we say under pressure is the key witness to Jesus.

Some bonus points aregiven by Jesus here:

a.      Don’t prepare in advance (14-15) – he will give us words and wisdom. That may seem risky, but it is a faith and trust thing.

b.      Family and friends could hand you over (16) – this is messy and you could be killed. It is risky for many who leave their family’s faith or non-faith to follow Christ.

c.      You will be hated because of Jesus (17) – by everyone! Clearly courage was and is reqiured.

d.      You will keep your hair on (18) – what does this mean?  * This reflects the extent of God’s care for us and his knowledge of us.

e.      Stand firm and win life! (19) – endurance is the key! “Endurance” appears more than 30 times in the letters of the NT.

* The hair thing may also be about safety and destruction issues – not the risk of baldness or an obsession with hair counting! People who served God did not cut their hair as a sign (the Nazirites – like Samson in Judges 13 and 14) – and judgement and destruction were symbolised by shaving and therefore losing hair (See Isaiah 7:17-20). (Nazir = consecrated, set apart.)

Nothing will touch those set apart for God! Which leads logically to the last point:  v19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. (NASV) Or in the NIV: Stand firm, and you will win life.

  • Be watchful and  alert!
  • Keep perspective – because nothing is permanent!
  • There will be an opportunity to testify! And stand firm – endure. And you will win your life or your soul.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 24 march – Unlike any other king

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

PALM SUNDAY

What an interesting name – Palm Sunday! Some have suggested PARADE SUNDAY! For good reason – Palms are not even mentioned in the account in Luke. Cloaks are – people lay them on the ground. It’s festive. Crowds shout out!

sermon outline 24 March 1

Today people are not that sure about what it means – hence the  Palm Sundae picture above!

So what’s the most important thing today?

sermon outline 24 March 2

Kids love animals – so donkeys have featured on Palm Sunday services. There are some serious logistical problems about that when you have donkeys in church!

Palms are good – they are mentioned in three accounts! Not in our Luke reading though! Cloaks are also laid down.

Praise is good! Psalm 118 is quoted – a processional Psalm welcoming  the one who comes “in the name of the Lord”.

Stones are referred to. People write whole sermons on the stones

Either way they work up to Easter!

So many options!

So for the sake of the Donkey watch this creative take on Palm Sunday:

Great questions –

  • Why is this day so UNLIKE every other day!
  • Why is Jesus so UNLIKE every other bloke!

Good questions! I loved the donkey’s ability to resist stopping at the burger king!

THE BEST NAME FOR THE EVENT IS THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

The name “Triumphal” entry is deceptive – it underscores the challenge of who wins in this story – of who has the real power.

Crowds cheer – in Luke disciples are praising Jesus.  “Deeds of power” or miracles are the reason given for this celebration! His miracles and healings have impressed people. One has to ask – are people still looking for the wrong things (like the food he provided when he fed the 5000?).

The words “Blessed is he who comes” in Psalm 118 – which welcomed pilgrims – become in Luke’s account here: “Blessed is the King who comes…”. Jesus is more than a pilgrim here. He is a humble King fulfilling the prophecies of one riding in like this, on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). On the other hand Pilate – when he came in to town – would have been on a horse – with soldiers – showing his power as a warning to the masses! Jesus is on a humble donkey’s foal.

One way or other JESUS PLANNED HIS OWN PARADE! He tells them where to go to get the foal. He has no problem with them putting him on it. And the parade begins! The disciples cry “Peace in heaven!” which is fascinating as at his birth the angels sang “peace on earth”! Why is the glory here in the highest heaven? There’s an old song we sing sometimes: “You are the king of glory” which includes the line “glory in the highest heaven – for Jesus the Messiah reigns”.

The focus is on heaven probably because this is not an earthly king or an earthly Kingdom! At an earthly level, from a human political point of view, they kill him! The real power is the power of the Kingdom – seen in the mighty deeds – which were healings and exorcisms mainly, restoring people’s bodies and minds! The real power will be seen on Easter Sunday – when he is raised from death.

So following our English donkey in the Donkey Cam video – he is unlike any other bloke!!  He is unlike any other King!

What kind of king is this? Triumphant? – not really on the day. Certainly not on Good Friday. Definitely victorious on the third day when he is raised.The route he takes to his victory is profoundly challenging. Read Isaiah 53 to get a sense of what he went through as the suffering servant.

He is prince of peace – but his parade is not on a horse and has no soldiers. In fact Luke seems to de-politicise it by not referring to Palms  and not even using the word “Hosanna” – they both had political connotations.

What kind of King do you want? (I’m referring to you today as you read this).  Someone powerful who will vindicate your cause and change your circumstances, like those who wanted him to overthrow the oppressive regime of the Romans?

In the Easter events the efforts of Judas (to force Jesus’ hand?) and the violence of Peter when Jesus is arrested (drawing his sword and attacking someone) speak of the human ways of achieving power.

We get Jesus of Nazareth – someone so different – “Unlike every other bloke” – and we are to become like Him! Strength in weakness and humility are his way of dealing with his enemies.

A King unlike any other!

sermon outline 24 March 7

This King – Jesus of Nazareth – laments over the city.  Read beyond the verses set for today and you will see this.

He does not weep for Himself, even though he knows he faces a certain death. He laments the fact that they miss out again on the opportunity that God gives them to find true peace.

He cleanses the temple! The real issue is not the political power, but the hearts of the people of God who had taken a wrong turn! He stops first at the religious establishment and tries to get them to refocus. Perhaps today he would do the same.

What is God’s word for us today in the light of these events?

There is something about Palm Sunday that warns us about offering Hosannas without counting the cost of the Jesus’ way! It’s easy to deride those same crowds who within a few days would be shouting “crucify”! But would we have been any different? Are we any different?

On that day the Pharisees tried to silence the praise. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is profound:  We read in Luke 19:38-39 ‘…  saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  (v40).

What was happening had consequences for the whole of creation.

Jesus was content to be declared King on that day. We as Christians should still be declaring him King today.

He rides into Jerusalem courageously. We have to be courageous too as we own him as King in our lives.

That is God’s challenge for us today!

sermon outline 24 March 11

The issue is Jesus is King! We have to say it! Declare it! The early Christians did (rather than Caesar is King) and died for their faith!

Say Jesus is King today and they will try to shut you down! To silence you like the Pharisees on that Palm Sunday.  It’s the most challenging generation in which to really follow Jesus, put him first, and SAY blessed is the King!

Here is something to consider today: Where are the most difficult place for US to declare Jesus as King (and live it out?). Here are some of them I have thought of. You can add your own:

  1. Home
  2. Work
  3. University
  4. School
  5. Bridge club? Sports club?

Who will shut us down there? Who will say “you need to really top talking about this Jesus bloke. It’s not PC you know!” or words to that effect.

So as we end, we go back to our first outline.

sermon outline 24 March 13

What is the main thing today? Donkeys? Palms? Praises? Stones? Working up to Easter? People regard this Sunday as the “official” start of Holy week – which it is! We are however actually still in Lent – the last Sunday of self – reflection or introspection… the period of those “How am I doing” questions.

How am I doing when it comes to declaring Jesus as King in my life? Am I happy to shout “Hosanna” on Sunday and then be silent on Monday and the rest of the week?

Or am I a secret Christian? Self-appointed underground for God – just too deep underground?

Are we brave and courageous like Jesus on that Palm Sunday?  Are we courageous enough to declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus in our lives each day? Or have we worked it all out so that we can remain silent?

May you find grace and strength to make Him Lord of every day. May this Holy week be a time when you discover that you have a story to tell about this Jesus who was “unlike every other bloke”and whose kingship changes our lives today.

Amen.