Readings: Luke 8:26-39
Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”
I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.
It’s not exactly welcoming.
The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.
It’s a cemetery for one thing.
My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.
In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.
This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked
And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.
Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.
He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.
He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.
And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.
This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.
The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.
The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.
Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.
Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.
I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.
Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.
The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.
Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).
It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.
2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.
What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.
WHAT ABOUT US?
• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.
No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.
And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.
At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.
Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).
And he’s dressed.
And in his right mind.
And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?
Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.
The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
But the story does end with such a positive statement:
Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.
When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.
We have to go home and tell others about it.
He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.
Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.
Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.
READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17
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.
- 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.
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.
Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96
Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”
Quiz question 1: Where was that?
Nazareth – where he had been brought up.
Quiz question 2: What happened next?
They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.
I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.
In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.
Quiz question 3: where did he go next?
Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:
Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?
Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.
Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.
The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.
In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.
Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.
It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.
Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:
Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.
Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.
Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.
But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.
Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.
Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.
With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.
There’s a bit of sending going on here.
The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.
The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?
On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.
“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.
This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.
At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?
DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).
Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:
1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?
SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.
Go back to Luke 7:
Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.
The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
TWO POINTS TO TAKE HOME
1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:
It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:
Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.
2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.
This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.
WHAT ABOUT US
The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.
How amazing is our faith?
Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?
Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?
Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.
(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)
Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.
As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.
This one is about Amazing faith.
Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.
Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?
Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53
I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.
You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.
I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.
- We’re often missing it.
- Missing the point.
- Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.
Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.
We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.
We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.
I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!
The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.
It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.
In Luke 24 (and I think you should read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:
“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).
Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.
Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.
- When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
- If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
- If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
- If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.
In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:
For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.
He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.
He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.
He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.
He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.
He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.
He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.
He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.
He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.
He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.
He goes on to say:
If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.
Isn’t that brilliant!
You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.
When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.
And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.
It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.
He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.
Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.
He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.
It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.
Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.
In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.
But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.
If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?
Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.
C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:
- Obey him – treat Him as King.
- Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
- Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
- Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.
In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:
Luk 24:44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.
And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them – telling this story. So Jesus says:
Luk 24:48 You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.
But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.
Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.
Sermon Advent 4 20 December 2015
REFLECTIVE VIDEO (Mary’s song)
Who was Time magazine’s woman of the year? Angela Merkel of course. The daughter of a pastor who believes that Germany can not say to refugees “no room in the inn”.
How about National Geographic’s most influential person? Mary of Galilee. The Virgin Mary.
The headline goes like this:
MAGAZINE | DECEMBER 2015
How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman
Mary barely speaks in the New Testament, but her image and legacy are found and celebrated around the world.
I loved watching the current Pope on his recent tour to America. I was comfortable up to the point when he led a prayer involving the virgin Mary.
The line that features uses the words of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptiser.
Luk 1:42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
You don’t pick it up as well in the NIV – listen to the KJV and NRSV:
(KJV) And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Add “Jesus” to the end of this and you’ve almost got a Hail May.
Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Okay you have to add verse 42, the greeting of the angel:
(KJV) And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
I’d like to know the virgin Mary a little more. Now that sounds scary I know. I’m not talking about having a visitation from her.
One of the reasons why National Geographic in its December article talks about her influence is because of those appearances. Have a look:
Have a look at this:
If I were to have anyone appear to me, I’d prefer it to be Jesus – which he is doing in middle eastern countries.
But truthfully – would you like Jesus walking into your living room? And talking to you about your life?
Mary was God’s chosen teenager. I wouldn’t mind hearing from her.
SO WHAT DO WE MAKE OF THIS?
- Mary’s voice and message speaks to women because a lot of our Christian stuff, whether we like it or not, is dominated by men.
- Mary’s faith and trust is inspirational.
No need to say more. Just go home and read her response in the magnificat.
- It can’t have been easy for her as a teenage mother. A young mother pregnant and potentially shamed. We have seen how unhelpful it is to have “truths” unmatched with compassion.
I wrote my version of a Christmas letter this year. I’ve always been a bit allergic to them as people overstate the virtues and successes of their children. I mean come on – they didn’t just sail through their studies without major family issues and conflicts.
Here’s what I wrote after my story:
The greatest challenge and blessing – developing a more disciplined and reflective prayer life. Part of this is resting in the Lord, especially when we have absolutely no control over things. Which you discover in the second half of life is basically all the time. Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward, a spirituality for the two halves of life”, is proving a slow and grinding yet rewarding read. He quotes Desmond Tutu: “We are only the light bulbs, Richard, and our job is just to remain screwed in!” Rohr, Richard (2011-02-11). Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life . Wiley. Kindle Edition.
May you have a blessed Christmas. For those who never write – bless you! For those who do – bless you especially! A thought for you to close my bit – then you can read Sheilagh’s epistle.
A comment by a Christmas shopper checking his list…
I almost forgot the most important thing of all – compassion. If I see some – no matter what the colour, size or shape – I’m going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.
It’s just as well angels did speak back in the day when Mary fell pregnant. There might have been a kind of honour killing.
- It could not have been any easier for Mary at that first Easter crucifixion.
Sheilagh shared with me her thoughts last week when I spoke about Zachariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John. She was sitting at the back (probably wondering when I would finish) and thinking: “I hope that john’s mom and dad were dead when Herod Antipas had his head chopped off”.
Parenting never ends. You know the story of the 100-year-old lady who said the best year of her life was when she turned 90. In that year all her children were safely retired in rest homes.
- I would like to ask Mary lots of questions.
About Jesus as a child. Did he walk on water then in the bath? Probably not. 🙂
I guess his cousin may have had an interesting childhood too:
If we knew more from Mary about being a mother – and more about Jesus as a child, maybe we would relax more about parenting. Jesus has been through it all.
Isaiah 9:1-7; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 1:66-79
Over the years we have had interesting people in our lives in the Presbyterian Church. Leaders were always fascinating. And occasionally they would visit you – especially when you lived 100km plus from the main centres.
I remember a brother Moderator coming along and sitting us down in the lounge and asking us this question:
“How are things with your soul?”
Great question. I think as a young couple with two small boys charging around, we were in a survival mode and hadn’t really thought about more than coping with the simple things of getting through the day. (And I knew him in a totally other capacity – it just sounded weird when he asked us that!)
- What fed us spiritually? Who knows, when you are always giving out?
- What feeds us spiritually?
That’s why going to New Wine each January is so important for us now as a couple, as were the renewal conferences we were part of back in South Africa. (And no – new wine is a Christian group supporting local churches and ministers without bottles of wine! It’s a different spirit if you like – although when we tell some of our friends who don’t know the biblical reference Jesus used about new wine, they are curious about what we actually do for four nights and days.) (Click here to have a look at New Wine and the summer festivals)
- What feeds us?
- What feeds you?
This time of year is saturated – flooded with amazing food. I confess mince pies alone are dangerous enough to cause the collapse of a nation.
John the Baptiser was not big on fancy foods. His sustenance was found in a desert, and locusts and wild honey seemed to suffice.
Something else would have kept him going I suspect. He ministered in the desert, and clearly listened to God. There had been no prophetic voice for nearly 500 years.
We’ve talked before about these desert experiences – do you remember the message that included Mendelssohn’s “O for the wings of a dove?” It’s from Psalm 55: Psalm 55:6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest— Psalm 55:7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah Psalm 55:8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”
I shared this quote with you about the voices we hear: But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’” (Henri Nouwen).
We need to hear that voice. And we need our souls fed.
There are some amazing hymns in our tradition. And then there are exceptional ones. Guide me o Thou Great Jehovah/Redeemer is one.
“Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more!”
Our soul is fed by God’s word and His presence.
Didn’t Jesus say at his temptation (to the devil of course): “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)
And the starting point is meeting Jesus – the Word of God in John 1 – the one who speaks by his life and words, and who is described prophetically by Isaiah in the prophecy read today in these words:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2).
Wonderful counsellor – what a comfort. Mighty God – how strong that sounds and is. Everlasting Father – contrast with human fathers who abandon us by jumping ship or dying too soon. Prince of Peace – is such a joy to hear.
If our souls are disquieted – troubled – deficient of anything – it is probably peace.
- Sleepless nights (money, work, family, health – you name the cause)
- Troubled days (wondering if we will have sleepless nights again)
- Anxiety about being anxious (that vicious circle which feeds itself)
- Plain unadulterated fear (fed in my case by nightmares and post-traumatic stress)
It’s all something that needs the prince of peace to park in the troubled zones of our minds, our hearts, our souls – out deepest recesses of darkness and sin.
As an aside – on that matter of sin – It’s interesting when people tell me they are perfect. Without sin. 1 John always comes to mind: 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
And then I wonder about this verse, when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery: John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Would they then throw the first stone?
Of course John in chapter 1 of his first letter says this: 1 John 1:9 – 10: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
The prayer of a little boy comes to mind: “Dear Lord, please forgive us our sins – those we have done, those we have not got around to doing, and those we haven’t yet thought up”.
Clearly he had an irritating sister or brother.
Sometimes we lack peace because people have sinned against us. Either way we get hurt because of the sinful nature of human beings. We need peace – healing and nurturing deep within our souls.
The absence of Peace – and the need to nurture our souls
Discussions about the soul are about the inner life. Our inner life – involving thoughts and emotions (minds and hearts if you like). And our souls. The word soul crops up a lot in Scripture.
In the Psalms the writer’s speak of their soul in these ways: A soul can be in anguish (6:3); it can be revived (19:7); it can be restored (23:3); it can grow weak with grief (34:2); It can rejoice in the Lord (35:9); it can be left forlorn 35:12); it can be poured out in worship (42:4); and often downcast (42:5,6,11; 43:5); It can be called to awaken (57:8); it can find rest in God (63:1,5)
In fact it’s worth looking at these verses from Psalm 62 and 63:
Psalm 62:1 For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David. My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.
Psalm 62:5 Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Psalm 63:1 A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Psalm 63:5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Today we sang: “Find rest my soul – in Christ alone – I will be still and know you are God!” It’s a great song.
The reading from Philippians is a timely reminder if you are lacking peace. And listening to the news on Friday about family violence over Christmas, how the shelters have to stay open because stress leads to domestic violence, it’s always a great passage:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Of course people facing violence can’t just depend on this peace – they also need safety and help. Thankfully there are people who can help us.
The point is that Christmas is not always an ideal time. There again, the first Christmas also had challenges.
Peace with God – a right relationship
Peace is achieved with God – in the realm of salvation through trusting in Jesus as our Lord and rescuer from sin. Romans 5:1 puts it like this in the NLT: Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
I take that as a given. We need to trust in Christ and find forgiveness and peace with God at that level.
Peace in the turmoil of life.
Peace in the turmoil of life comes when you hear God speak to you. Being well in our inner life – our souls – comes out of hearing his voice of assurance, of guidance, and of peace.
You can be forgiven if you sometimes doubt that God knows what he is doing when things are tough in your life. The Christmas characters had some serious challenges too.
There are secondary characters in the Christmas story that teach us about this kind of soul life – stability and peace through hearing God. Simeon the priest for one – waiting for the messiah – filled with the Spirit – knew he would not die until he saw the messiah. He’s led by the Spirit into the temple when Mary and joseph bring baby Jesus there. And listen to what he says: “Sovereign Lord, now let Your servant die in peace, as You have promised. (Luke 2:29).
I wouldn’t mind that – knowing that I am exactly in God’s plan and when the day comes I can die in peace. Pretty cool hey? His prophecy is powerful. (Read verses 34-5 of Luke 2).
CLOSING THOUGHTS ABOUT JOHN’S MUM AND DAD
And this is John in the Bible. John the Baptiser. Like Mary and Joseph, spare a thought for the lack of peace in their lives. Cousin Mary and Joseph have to deal with politicians and their decisions and go to Bethlehem on a precarious four legged taxi (no Uber here for them) when she is about to pop.
Zachariah and Elizabeth had to deal with the curse of being barren – even though he was a faithful priest.
But its to chapter 1 in Luke where we have to go to see what happens when God speaks and we start our own ideas in response.
John’s father has an angelic visitation in the temple when on duty. He’s rostered on. Funny how the Levites came to our attention last week. This week it’s a priest again. And an angel appears and speaks to him.
He is terrified. The angel assures him. He doubts. (1:18) and gets this response: Luke 1:19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to bring you this good news! Luke 1:20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”
Oops. It’s taken up a notch. Gabriel reminds him that although he is a professional in God’s presence in the temple. Gabriel is not to be argued with – “ I stand in the very presence of God”. Stilte! (An Afrikaans word). He is silenced.
It helps us understand the passage we heard today – the power of Zachariah’s prophecy, seeing that he had been silenced for 9 months. The silence is lifted when this happens:
Luke 1:57 When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. Luke 1:58 And when her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. Luke 1:59 When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. Luke 1:60 But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” Luke 1:61 “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” Luke 1:62 So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. Luke 1:63 He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Luke 1:64 Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.
It’s amazing what silence does. He prophecies – after all that time of silence and clearly listening to God. He says this:
Luke 1:76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, Luke 1:77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, Luke 1:78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven Luk 1:79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The King James version captures the beauty of the words of the man who had to be still for 9 months: Luke 1:78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, Luke 1:79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The dayspring is another word for the rising sun – Jesus. Zachariah’s prophecy is a perfect blend of Isaiah 9 which we heard as well today, and Malachi 4:2.
Isa 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Mal 4:2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.
Ring any bells? The Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angel sing” by Charles Wesley – who didn’t make these songs up. It’s all from scripture:
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”
Interestingly the “Sun of Righteousness” has often been changed to “Son of Righteousness” on the assumption perhaps that this is a spelling mistake. Malachi 4:2 speaks however of the sun, referring to the brightness of His glory perhaps (Hebrews 1:3) or His being the light of the world (John 8:12).
One writer put it like this: The sun which is righteousness, in whose wings, that is, rays, are healing and salvation. This Divine righteousness shall beam upon them that fear the Name of God, flooding them with joy and light, healing all wounds, removing all miseries, making them incalculably blessed. The Fathers generally apply the title of “Sun of Righteousness” to Christ, who is the Source of all justification and enlightenment and happiness, and who is called (Jeremiah 23:6), “The Lord our Righteousness.”
Wesley writes of the healing here in these words: “His beams shall bring health and strength, with delight and joy, safety and security.”
How are things with your soul today? May you find this healing and life, his warmth and peace.
May the prince of peace speak peace into your soul today.
Ephesians 2: 6-10; Matthew 25:31-46;
I was reading the sermon I preached on this day 4 years ago. Not bad really – even if I say so myself. It was a solid and challenging message.
But did it get across? Did the message make a difference? Or do we have constant miscommunication in this modern age.
Take this cartoon for example. It’s speaks volumes:
So what is the heart of the message? What do you take away each week? What will you take home today?
This is CHRIST THE KING Sunday. Also known as the “Reign of Christ”. Whether you are a royalist or a republican you can’t avoid the titles of Jesus.
The Gospel text (the reading today – not an sms received on your phone in code) starts very directly with these words: Mat 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
Sit on his throne. Then in verse 34 we read: “Then the King will say…
The last judgement scene has been portrayed in all kinds of creative ways. It is quite graphic really. Verse 41 speaks volumes really: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
We may miss the point however. We obsess about future judgement sometimes. Jesus seemed to say elsewhere that judgement is also now.
Take this for example: John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. A fascinating verse.
But beyond that – the Christian life is not really about doing good and ethics. They are part of it – but not the essence of it.
People do see it like this however. A conversation with a parishioner from a previous church is a good example. I asked her this question – here was the conversation: are you still at church? Her response: No I don’t go to church anymore. Just try to live a good life quietly on my own.
I wonder if her good life includes the kind of care Jesus talks about in Matthew 25.
Mat 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, Mat 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Don’t you see? Once you make it about what you do – it gets tricky. And we get picky. That’s why the questions about what we must “do” are a distraction.
Commentator Dirk Lang puts it like this: “Like the person who came to Jesus and asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-24), so we too wonder on what side we will find ourselves — the right or the left? The question, however, is simply an excuse for doing nothing, as Bonhoeffer has pointed out.
The person attempts to engage Jesus in an endless ethical discussion about works or good deeds. In this parable, the question resurfaces but in an importantly different way: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” (25:44).
Those at the left hand of the Son of Man seek an excuse and almost put the blame on the Son of Man himself as if to say, ‘You didn’t reveal yourself; how could we see you?’ ” (Workingpreacher.org)
In other words – if I’d known it was you Jesus when that poor person asked for help, then I would have Jesus! You can see how daft that is.
SO: What’s it all about?
Here’s the clue – the people in the sheep and goats account who get the prize – who are rewarded – actually had no idea they were doing it to Jesus (or to someone who represents Jesus).
Their response is this: Mat 25:38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?Mat 25:39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The implication is – they were doing what they were doing because that’s who they were. It flowed out of them without the analysis.
And it fits well with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere does it not. And with Matthew as a whole starting with John the Baptiser:
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Mat 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Mat 3:9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Mat 3:10 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
And Jesus takes this theme further: Mat 7:16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Mat 7:17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Mat 7:18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Mat 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Mat 7:20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
The implication is that this is gardening again – not philosophy or logic or ethics classes. It’s an organic growth in character if we are connected to Jesus the Head, and the rest of the body.
That’s why holiness and unity are really hard to keep together in tension. People will be happy families (united) until you confront behaviour (go for holiness). They get mad at you. Sulk. Boycott church.
Jesus keeps going at this theme in Matthew: Mat 12:31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Mat 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Mat 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. Mat 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Mat 12:35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. Mat 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
The king in this Kingdom is a King of compassion. The fruit of behaviour in transformed connected people (connected to the vine if you like as in John 15) is people who have compassion like Jesus did.
Compassion on the woman at the well. The prostitute caught in adultery. The tax collector up a tree. The untouchable lepers. Do I need to go on? When they meet Jesus – he changes them through grace.
We try to change the world through condemnation and threats.
So the good-fruit disciples who have no idea helping people is like helping Jesus – feed the poor, visit the prisoners. (Hey – do you want to come with me in the week before Christmas? I’m looking for some singers who can come with me and I will bring my guitar. To the maximum security prison.)
And they help the hungry, thirsty, strangers and naked. They do it and are surprised that it is the same has helping Jesus.
The sheep are good fruit. Fabulous mixed metaphor.
The goats are fruitless. And they are the debaters – they love discussing things. “Really – I would have done something if I’d known it was for you Jesus!”
Modern debaters discuss whether the “least of these” means gentiles or Christians – who do we help. Refugees? Which ones?
The sheep just do it. Nike sheep. Fabulous mixed metaphor.
YOU ARE THIS – SO DO IT
I know there are passages about obedience – and we have to figure out what this means. But the bulk of the evidence (we ponder scripture – we weigh things up) is about doing what we are already.
Indicative: you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
Imperative: be yourselves – salt and light.
PAUL TO THE EPHESIANS
So a final comment from Ephesians 2. It is always grace and not works. A gift – not earned by our deeds. Paul says it like this:
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Eph 2:9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Legalists agonise here too – “am I doing the right good works?” “I’m sure my good works don’t including visiting prisons. Helping Muslims. Being generous to people who are DIFFERENT!?”
Maybe this will help to make the point:
Tom Wright picks up on a subtlety in the Greek in verse 10 which you see in other translations: 8 How has this all come about? You have been saved by grace, through faith! This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift. 9 It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast. 10 This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.
Other translations pick this up too: (NRSV) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
(ESV) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(CEV) God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.
He prepared good works as the road we must travel. To be our way of life (NRSV). That we should walk in them (ESV) – the word is peripatetic. Περιπατέω – it means to live or walk.
That’s no token – no selective good works. It’s all of life.
It’s the fruit. You can’t have it half the time or selectively. We become fruitful.
We do it because we are this.
Readings: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-13
Sermon Palm Sunday
I wonder what you thought about the cricket world-cup spectacle. Especially during the matches where there is great fanfare and celebration at the end of play. Whoever wins at the end of the day – there are fireworks and loud music plays. All the modern trimmings of a victory parade. A spectacle. Interviews – reports – and assuming that the black caps have won (I am writing this before knowing who will face them in the final – blue or yellow) – great celebration and jubilation!
There have been other spectacles this week. Including the tragic crashing of a plane – where the pilot is alleged to have said: “one day I will do something that will change the system… and everyone will know my name and remember me.” A tragic spectacle and way of being remembered.
And then there is an interesting spectacle in the form of a bye-election result over night in Northland! Say no more! Political grandstanding can also be a spectacle – an event of sorts. With their own victory parades.
So back to the cricket final later today. The headline I saw was this: “Black caps captain Brendon McCullum leads his men into battle against Australia today in a historic cricket world cup final.” The black cap captain put it this way in an interview: it “creates the greatest stage we can ask for.”
These are spectacles – great events involving public statements and celebrations or commiserations.
Palm Sunday was a bit like that. Except there were no fireworks and no TV coverage.
Loyalty and recognition are central in these things. Which brings us to the Palm Sunday crowd. Where would you have been positioned on that day?
THE CROWDS on Palm Sunday
Traditionally we have given them a hard time. Not really a good thing to be cheering for Jesus and then calling for his execution a few days later. Even though it preaches well. I have told children’s stories with this line – “yay for Jesus! Away with Jesus!” Such fickle people! I have preached along those lines many times on Palm Sunday.
But is it true? We gloss over the text (as preachers) – and often miss on the subtleties.
It seems actually that we are dealing with two groups of people – the crowds who came along with him (likely to be his followers and especially those who were touched by him and healed), and the city – meaning the people of Jerusalem who were kind of perplexed. Who is this and what is this all about?
We see this in verses 10 and 11: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I am sure that even those who were healed and obviously over the moon about Jesus would not really understand what it meant when he was received as a King.
But they were happy with the notion of a prophet (who speaks and acts for God) and they seemed okay that he was from Nazareth (not a great pedigree!).
The disciples had other ideas about him being King. Just in the chapter before (Matthew 20) Jesus had to remind them of the nature of his kingship. James and John’s mother is asking for favours for them. Have a look at the chapter before our reading for today:
Mat 20:20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
Mat 20:21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Mat 20:22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.
Mat 20:23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
Mat 20:24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Mat 20:25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mat 20:26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mat 20:27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— Mat 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The disciples knew – or should have known better – that his kingship was different.
The crowds were moved, however. One way or the other this was a significant moment. They responded!
But a crowd involves individuals making choices. It was still a personal response. We should remember that they would only have had one cloak – which they spread on the road.
They would have known an example of this from their bibles – one hopes – for example when Elisha sent one of his team to anoint Jehu as King in second Kings – this is what happened: 2Ki 9:13 They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Tom Wright also says this: In the long folk-memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10.7). And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years. Indeed, the Herod family had intermarried with the Maccabaean family, and the chief priests claimed a similar status.
People who throw down their cloaks like that are actually making a statement about what they think is going on. There is loyalty involved! And royalty! The person welcomed and hailed as king or conqueror would have to be worthy of the honour and sacrificial response – especially of laying down your only cloak in his path. I can’t think of a modern equivalent – except perhaps at a concert when people throw things onto the stage?
Of course there is the more recent (than Jesus) story of Sir Walter Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth the first so she didn’t have to walk in the mud!
It doesn’t happen often today for leaders and politicians. They usually have a whole team organizing those kinds of things.
SIGNS OF A KING – albeit a different one.
There were clear signs of a King. The fulfillment of prophesy is there. And the key title that crops up: “Son of David!” Jerusalem had been his capital city a thousand years earlier – and they were hoping for a King like David to rescue them from oppression.
And to be fairer to the crowds who hailed him as King (perhaps some of his actual entourage did run away) – it’s not that easy when your leader is arrested. The Roman armies were pretty savage – and not to be messed with. If you see savage armies at work today (and we do daily on our TV screens), you may get a sense of how frightening it would have been.
But the expectation was there – for Him to be King on their terms – in line with the hope that they would be liberated eventually. They had very different expectations. He was not coming to win a war – but to be killed.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
I think we sometimes want Jesus to be available on our terms according to our agenda as well. Tom Wright puts it this way: The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today. People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are.*
* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 69). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
OUR RESPONSE as individuals and a group – some final thoughts.
- What would we need to lay down before Jesus today? (Individual answers will be unique really) – sacrificing in some way? Laying down your only cloak: – sacrificial living and giving?
- Is there some other way we need to give honour to Jesus? What kind of King is he to us today?
- Are we afraid too? Referring back to the “fickle” crowd. They would have been afraid when Jesus was arrested.
- Remember the cry “Hosanna” – Hoshiana (v25 of Psalm 118) – which means “save us!” It has become a praise word. It is a song of Passover, which included the line – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. What do we need saving from? Only you can answer that.
- Do we allow him to be a prophet to us? Speaking into our lives and cleansing our temples? Is our church also used as a pious hideout while needy people are outside on the margins.
And then the consequences in the temple are worth noting: Mat 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Mat 21:15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. Mat 21:16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
- He turns the temple into a place of healing (the blind and the lame would have been excluded from the temple). With Jesus in the temple worship becomes truly life giving. Is Jesus’ reign manifested beyond our church – where people are really transformed – by the life giving words?
- The children cry out – and the authorities are rattled by that. Are we? It’s a threat to the chief priests and the scribes. “Do you hear what they are saying” – he responds with Psalm 8:2 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
- He is the king who saves instead of oppressing. Heals instead of exploiting! This is a totally different Kingship in every sense. He is the Saviour King.
So do we acknowledge him – wave branches and declare his praises – in our lives? We would do well to go back to Matthew 10:32-3 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
He still makes claims on our lives. Let’s listen to Him especially through this Easter week.
Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46
We are reaching the end of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel – just before he faces his Passion. Chapter 26 verse 1 says this: When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:1-2)
It’s a turning point. And it’s interesting that this last teaching – in Matthew’s gospel anyway – is this parable of the sheep and the goats.
Coming to New Zealand for us was a very interesting experience. I used to joke about it when asked whether I would consider ministering here: “Oh too many sheep” I would reply. “I’ve got my hands full already!”
And when we did arrive in Wellington, it was quite a while before we actually saw sheep. I remember my wife getting quite excited when it happened – on the way up the Hutt River Valley towards Kaitoke Regional Park – one of our favourites and the site of the set of Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings.
Sheep and goats.
This is a parable isn’t it? The comparison is in verse 32: “…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
That’s about as far as the comparison goes. There is no other link – not even the tails up of the goats and tails down of the sheep (or is it the other way round?) give us anything to compare or relate to.
Here’s the fascinating thing. I mean you would want to be a sheep on that day would you not?
It’s time to resurrect my first song I taught the children here:“I just want to be a sheep, baa ba ba baa. I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no, cause goats have got no hope, I don’t want to be a goat.”
Of course we teach the children about following Jesus as good little sheep – but we seldom talk about the eternal punishment awaiting the goats. Eternal punishment! Unlike their time-out in the corner etc.
Some thoughts came to mind this week. Here they are.
- Okay it’s just a simile about separation.
- This will happen at the end of things? Yes/no?
- The sheep and goats will coexist (as they often did grazing together) – which means that the sheep and goats are in the church together? Right?
- Does that mean that some of you are going to the eternal fire! Right?
Well I don’t know. Have a word with the person next to you and ask them – is it you? Will it be you? What do you think of this parable?
(Pause for discussion.)
(That sounds like the last supper and Jesus trying to root out his betrayer – and they all say “is it I Lord?”)
HOW DO YOU READ YOUR BIBLE THEN?
- Is this the last judgement?
- Is the judgement based on ethical behaviour – and not faith or a lack of faith?
- I thought we were saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2 says after all: “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 (vss 8-9).)
- So do you think Paul wrote Ephesians before Matthew wrote Matthew?
- Did Paul even know what Jesus taught on this matter?
Well it’s more complex than that really. This parable or story is I mean.
- For one thing, the righteous in the account and the goaties have no idea when they did or did not do the right thing by Jesus – or to Jesus, when they were doing these things to the least of his brothers – or in the case of the goaties NOT doing these things. This needs some further thought.
Both reply to the King/Judge – “when did we do this/when did we neglect to do this”. They didn’t have a clue. (See verses 37 and 44)
Mat 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
Mat 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
The sentences seem to mean the same – but they don’t of course. The first means that they could not make the connection between the good they did and Jesus. They are “righteous” – and the Son of Man knows this – because they have been doing these important acts.
The second is an excuse. As Bonhoeffer has pointed out – an excuse for doing nothing. It’s almost as if they are saying – “now it’s not our fault if we couldn’t identify you” – a bit like the undercover boss programmes on TV. “I’ve I’d known it was the boss in disguise I would have behaved differently.”
- Secondly, who are the intended recipients of these acts of mercy and kindness? The least – Christians only, or the least – all created people. What are the chances of the Christians being hungry, thirsty, a stranger needing hospitality, needing clothes, sick and needing help, and in prison and needing some love and care?
Surely the Christians should be employed, wealthy and self-sufficient? When you listen to first world Christians and how scathing they can be about the unemployed who are on benefits, you would assume that we are all prosperity cult members.
And prisoners – nah Christians stay out of trouble. Yeah Right!
In our western arrogance we often see these people (especially unemployed and in jail – maybe not so much the sick) as those people over THERE!!!! – To whom we can give a few dollars on line. Which I do to of course. If you haven’t given something to the people of Vanuatu, then I reckon you could be in trouble here!
Commentators and New Testament students debate as to whether the people we should be helping here in Matthew 26 are family (church family) or simply all created people who land in trouble.
Calvin says – focus on the church, but remember it also applies to others!
Like Paul in Galatians:
Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Gal 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
When Jesus refers to the righteous – he’s talking about people who have responded to faith – chosen to follow him – and do his will!
The trail goes back to the earlier verses in Matthew’s Gospel.
Mat 12:47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
Mat 12:48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
Mat 12:49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
Mat 12:50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
He has this family identified by obedience really!
Go back further in the Gospel and you find this:
Mat 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
Mat 7:16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Mat 7:17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
Mat 7:18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Mat 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Mat 7:20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
Mat 7:23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Mat 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
And of course we go to another simile (comparison using the word “like” or “as”).
Building your house on the rock is about building your life on the WORDS of Jesus! (I remember preaching on that right here!)
The bottom line in this account is that the king is the Judge.
And we will give account.
And when we follow Jesus we should be doing Jesus stuff.
And the key identifier is probably this one thing: mercy.
Matthew 5:7 reminds us: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
And Luke 6:36: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
It has no meaning – this Christian faith – if we are unchanged. Selfish. Like goats with our tails in the air so proud of ourselves – when we should be like sheep with our tails between our legs (or down anyway) because it’s not about us really.
So there it is.
Don’t end up with the devil and his angels. If you can’t get the idea of fire in your head, then listen to Jesus words to the reprobates: V41 – Depart from me….
Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8
There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.
In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.
What do we learn from this?
In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.
And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.
We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.
Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.
The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.
A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:
Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.
He goes on to say:
Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus. Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *
They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.
Here’s the key:
- Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
- Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
- Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.
In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.
Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.
- Then the voice.
- And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
- And then the command: listen to Him.
Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.
When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.
Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.
It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.
There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.
That one I think will come around again.
On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.
And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.
I suspect that the important ones include:
- Love one another as I have loved you.
- Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
- Go into all the world
- Make disciples of all nations
You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.
The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.
I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:
Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *
That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.
May we listen to Him.
* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.