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

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

SERMON  

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

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

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

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

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

But put yourself in the story.

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

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

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

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

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

It was all healthy but raw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

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

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

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

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

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

It gets us here (point to gut).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

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

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 13 December 2015 (Advent 3) – Herod the child killer

READING: Matthew 2:1-23

MESSAGE

I loved teaching boys, especially little ones. We used to sing this song with our year 1s and 2s – “you can be happy…” and there is a verse which goes “you can be friends with me, I can be friends with you…” where they used to shake hands. I usually had 40 little boys “being friends” in a rugby scrum on the floor. Probably not best health and safety policy, but no one ever suffocated.

Celebrations of joy for boys are often quite robust. They keep doing it until about age 25 when the brain is finally fully formed and adolescence ends.

It would not be unusual in my year 1s and 2s when we did colouring in of the nativity scene at Christmas for dinosaurs and volcanoes to appear behind baby Jesus, or soldiers with guns and tanks to trundle over the hill behind the stable.

Actually – they were onto something. With the guns and tanks I mean.

Hence the delight in the gory version of “Jingle Bells” so aptly sung in the play today.

Our idyllic Christmas with trees and gifts is not the norm for most of the world.

We were watching the interview “Hillary meets Oprah” this week where Oprah Winfrey talks about the day when she heard that this big fella who dominates the season with a “ho ho ho” apparently is a legend. She was 12, and probably should have worked it out by then.

The thought was that there would be no Christmas. They were poor. Dirt poor.

That night some nuns dropped off food and gifts. It changed her life.

She learnt to give later and went through African villages setting up a tent and giving clothes and toys to kids who never had Christmas.

Later on she found that the clothes were valued the most.

I remember one of my three children at about 5 wailing “I didn’t want a jersey” – which granny had lovingly knitted. Captured on video forever.

Oprah’s kids valued the clothes because they were an equalizer. Everything before had been hand me downs. These were new clothes. They empowered those kids. The toys were secondary.

Which they are mainly. They break or get upgraded these days.

The point of this?

Christmas is messy. Jesus ends up as a refugee. Hundreds of mums have their babies  – little boys up to 2 year old – slaughtered by the aging Herod who had already bumped of a number of his own sons and many others in his paranoia. In fact, he gave instructions that when he died hundreds of Jewish nobles were to be killed – key people in every village whom he had rounded up and brought into the Hippodrome when he was dying – so that people would really mourn his passing and not throw a party. Thankfully they ignored that order.

He was a troubled man indeed. Mind you he had ten wives, two of whom shared the same name. Herod the great reigned for 33 years. The Jerusalem temple project he began took decades to complete, and was eventually finished in AD 63 only to be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans.

Appropriately the only remaining part today is the wailing wall.

Jesus was a refugee. Suddenly the wisdom of the magi makes sense – they needed gold as a resource to finance their travels as a young family. They flee to Egypt on account of Herod – saved by the wise “wise men” who didn’t report back to the despotic king.

The passage is matter of fact as time progresses. God keeps in touch with Joseph through a dream:

Mat 2:19-21:   After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”  So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Then of course the backstory is known to us. Herod was dangerous as long as he lived, but when he died it was still interesting. They say that where there is a will, there are relatives. Herod had written six wills, the last only 5 days before he died. Augustus the Emperor has to sort out the mess as each son (who had not been killed by their nice dad) had a claim to something.

The Kingdom is divided into three between Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Herod. Antipas we meet again in March next year at Easter. Evil men and their evil children are part of the Christmas story. Not very joyful.

The story today ends with this:

Mat 2:22-23:  But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Joseph was a smart man. Any member of Herod’s family and he needed to keep Jesus safe and well away.

Lessons for you kids?

  • Be thankful for the dad you have. It’s not that bad you know. An attitude of gratitude makes you healthier and happier anyway. He’s not horrible Herod. Parents do say weird things sometimes. Like “if you get yourself killed doing something stupid, don’t come running to me”. And when they say that they feel like killing someone, it’s not true. They don’t really do it! Anger is sometimes an expression of love.
  • And be joyful at Christmas. Joy comes from knowing that you are really loved, never mind what gifts you get. And – people who love you don’t always give you what you want. They know better because they usually know best. Trouble is our kids only figure that out when they have their own children one day. Spare a thought for those who get nothing at Christmas.
  • Don’t miss the point of Christmas either. Even when things are horrible, God still sticks around. Jesus was born in a messy place to make it better. Part of our job until he returns is to make the world better – right where we are.

Ask Him to help you if things are messy in your life. He likes that.

The end. (aka Amen – we agree).

Tuesday Church 8 September 2015 – lessons from Paul’s letter to the Philippians

Reading: PHILIPPIANS 4.2– 9

4:1  Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

4:2  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.

4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

Sermon

Two or three thoughts (maybe more) at our service this Tuesday. First of all the two women mentioned in 4:2.

  1. The two women – the need for unity

There are different theories about these ladies – especially the meaning of their names. Perhaps Euodia (with the long o), means fragrance; but we are told the correct reading is with the short o, the meaning being prosperous journey. Syntyche means happy chance.  Others suggest that Euodia means literally “prosperous journey” (eu, hodos). Syntyche  they say means “to meet with” and so “pleasant acquaintance” or “good-luck” Either way it would have been better for them to get on together. Paul has to get the team motivated as co-workers in the cause of the Gospel. (See John 17 on Jesus’ prayer for unity and its impact on mission).

And of course Paul is in prison – the next thing that challenges us as he calls us to rejoice always!

  1. Paul in prison – rejoicing in every situation

John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June; a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November. One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.

I think we get his point. And then thirdly, we are challenged by our commitment – are we those who strive for the Gospel to reach others?

  1. Contending – striving for the main thing

The image in Greek is drawn from athletic contests. Usually, athletes competed one against another; in Php 1:27 Paul asks the church at Philippi to compete together as a team of athletes to help advance the faith that comes through the preaching of the gospel.  (We saw that he also mentions Euodia and Syntyche as those who were contending for the gospel side by side with himself.)

In the first chapter of this letter he writes this: Php 1:27  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.

And in this passage when trying to get them to get along. he says: Php 4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

What a challenge. Do we strive for these things?

And of course the rest of this well known passage lists other things we should do as a consequence of following Christ. (On this Sunday coming we will look at a similar list in 1 Thessalonians 5):

  1. Paul’s exhortation to strive after other Christian virtues as well

Paul exhorts the Philippians to strive after four basic Christian virtues: (1) “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. Php_4:4), (2) be gentle to all people (v. Php_4:5), (3) be prayerful, not anxious (v. Php_4:6), and (4) meditate on excellent things (v. Php_4:8).

I encourage you to read this passage a number of times as you reflect on your journey with Christ.

Tom Wright’s translation of Philippians 4 is helpful as we close:

Celebrate in the Lord!

2 I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord.

3 (And here’s a request for you too, my loyal comrade: please help these women. They have struggled hard in the gospel alongside me, as have Clement and my other fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.)

4 Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate!

5 Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near.

6 Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

7 And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus.

Wright, Tom (2011-11-30). Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 128). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 9 November – Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God

Readings:  Micah 5:2-4;  6:6-8 Matthew 9:3 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)

Sermon.

There are two things I’d like to share with you today. Nothing complicated. Very simple. But also challenging! You know the saying about preachers – we are tasked to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

ONE

We are reading prophets today. Even the New Testament verse refers back to Hosea the prophet (prophesying in the northern kingdom).

Mat 9:13  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

(Hos 6:4  “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.

Hos 6:5  Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.

Hos 6:6  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

You can’t really read the prophets at all without getting a sense of when these words were spoken – context is everything.

I spoke about David, if you recall, who ruled for 40 years, as did Saul before him. Actually Saul reigned for 42 years.

And then Solomon – daughter of David and Bathsheba – reigned 40 years too.

So some 122 years of kingship. Unity ends in 931 BC.

And of course the kingdom divides in two after that. Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (two tribes in the south). Israel – the northern kingdom – has 19 kings through this period ending in 722 with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.

And in Judah in the south 20 kings through to 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom.

So Micah is a prophet in the southern kingdom, and a contemporary of Isaiah.

And his prophecy about Bethlehem is profound. Bethlehem is David’s city by birth (an overstatement in the Christmas carol – it’s a village or small town). We get all gooey when we read about Bethlehem as “O little town of Bethlehem” leaps out of our musical memories.

The issue is that Bethlehem is rather insignificant as a town. The Messiah comes from this small place – this little “house of bread!”  Listen to verse 2 again:

Mic 5:2  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

Oh by the way Ephrathah means fruitfulness.

Hold onto this thought – Christmas is just around the corner – and these verses whet our appetites if we have a penchant for Christmas.

Verse 4 is also lovely:

Mic 5:4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.

There is a sense of something great – someone great – who will come from this insignificant town.

Small does not mean insignificant in the eyes of God. And the same applies to you – if you think you are insignificant in the greater scheme of things – stick around and see how God can use you as well! To be fruitful.

Just as Bethlehem was chosen to be the place – our small church in this smallish suburb is part of God’s plan to be fruitful.

That’s enough about

TWO

The real treat this week is Micah 6:8. It’s one of those famous verses that people love. In fact – apart from the reference to the Messianic ruler coming out of Bethlehem, Micah 6:8 is the only really famous verse in the book. I listened to a discussion of this passage between a New Testament professor and an Old Testament professor. The Old Testament man referred to the book of the prophet Micah, to which the NT guy responded – “Oh yes – that’s a nice yerse!”

What is the context here?

Pretty much the same as today – listen to the first 5 verses of Micah 6:

Mic 6:1  Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.

Mic 6:2  Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.

Mic 6:3  “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.

Mic 6:4  I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.

In other words – God is reminding them through the prophet – of how he had led them in the past! There is almost a mocking tone:

Mic 6:6  With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Mic 6:7  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

It’s pretty direct really. What’s real worship? What really matters? Is it sacrifices (for us would it mean more offerings?).

Someone quipped that we don’t really have the problem of over-generosity today. It is hyperbole after all. Imagine ten thousand rivers of oil? There’s even an oblique reference to offering of one’s first born. “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Trouble is people did offer their children. Of course we would be aghast at that idea. Mind you – I recall a faithful and generous woman in our church years back who had a lot of kids – who told us once that when they were small she wished she could hang them up on a coat-hanger for a while.

Of course – Jesus is exactly that – if we become squeamish. Micah continues:

Mic 6:8  He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

What’s it all about? Not whether you exceedingly generous with your sacrifices – as if you could impress God or buy his favour like a politician in many places around the world.

No – it’s simple. Micah 6:8 it is:

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God.

I loved the humility of Frank who spoke last week. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of him before. There is a big world out there of course! You’re not meant to understand the intricacies of South African history and life.

What I liked was his honesty – how he felt that he had ticked all the boxes on God’s list – church, giving etc. and somehow he felt that God owed him something!

Someone penned this thought: “Moral indignation has never led anyone to Christ, but mercy has.”  Mixed with acting justly and walking humbly before God.

I want that in my life! At Messy Church Friday we talked about being saintly – which actually means holy. Of course we talked about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Catholic tradition lists 12 fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. There’s a thought – adding generosity, modesty and chastity.

Micah gives us – Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God. Good start if you are interested in being the light of Christ in this generation. This too is part of God’s plan for us as a church – to be fruitful.

Sunday sermon @ 10.30am, 6 July 2014 – Come unto me, take my yoke upon you

Readings: Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30;

Message.

Our eldest – at pre-school – had to deal with being a pastor’s kid living next door to the church. So he saw me going off for funerals and weddings. On one occasion I asked him “what happens when people die?”. He responded: “they get married” (as opposed to buried!).

In the Gospel reading today Jesus proves again to be a good observer of human beings – in this case children.  We read his words in Matthew 11, verse 16 and 17:They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’”

It’s a game of weddings and funerals – like my son’s mix up between marriage and dying (and they are very close actually) – the kids must have had a game in which they pretended. I’m sure you did this as a child. Playing house, or in my sister’s case “teacher and schools” – the crayons were sorted into their different sizes and you have an instant school with different year groups! She is still loving being a teacher!

Imagine children saying – “we played a flute for you and you did not dance” is like saying – “it’s not fair! (when playing cowboys). “I shot you and you didn’t die”. It’s a wedding and you’re supposed to be happy! We’re playing funerals – and you’re not crying! Typical kids. In fact in those days the kids did play weddings and funerals. Those were the public rituals they would have seen and acted out. Except in Jesus’ illustration they were surly and unresponsive to the one calling them – “come and play”

One commentator on this passage says that for pastors – it all sounds horrible familiar! You can’t please people!!! Good point – pleasing God is what really counts.

Of course Jesus was really talking about the adults of his day and not the children! They complained about John the Baptist and Jesus! Couldn’t please them all! The complained because of Johns ascetic lifestyle (withdrawing from the world and living in a desert) – and muttered because Jesus was too friendly with sinners (he made friends with everyone! Tut Tut!) Or to put it differently: John is too holy; Jesus is not holy enough. John was too strong on repentance! Jesus to strong on acceptance! Sounds familiar to me.

The passage ends with this statement: “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” This really is the same as “by their fruits you will know them”. In short – the people who complained only had to see what was happening – Matthew 11:5, a little earlier in the passage, tells us; “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

If you want to see whether Jesus was the one (despite his association with the outcasts of the day) then you have to bear witness to his miracles AND listen to his teachings of course.

It’s the teaching that really interests me in this passage:

Mat 11:25  At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Mat 11:26  Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Firstly Matthew 11:25-26: “At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

If you want to know what people believe – listen to their prayers.  “At that time” refers to the verses before – which are left out in the reading today. Like the comparison between weddings and funerals, between John and Jesus, people choose their responses. The cities that Jesus referred to are judged by whether they believe or not! In fact the three cities that failed to believe – says Jesus – will be judged more severely than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, which will be judged because of their evil ways!

In the context of this pronouncement Jesus prays: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

I spent five years in a school – where the focus was on learning rather than wisdom. The truth is that people do set themselves up as wise and learned. And since being back in pastoral ministry for over three years (and in the 19 years in parishes before) – I have found the same thing in churches. There are always those who set them up as knowledgeable and superior.

Jesus in his prayer reflects a clear understanding that the Lord of Heaven and Earth hides these things from the wise and learned.

It is because he doesn’t want them to know the truth?

Or is it rather that their way of going at things is counter-productive. One can only guess that Jesus is referring to religious leaders of his day. I don’t think Jesus minded people using their brains. He probably had issues with people who allowed their thinking to be distorted. And more than ever – he had issues with people who were given the truth – like the Torah – and missed the point of it all.

Isn’t it amazing and lovely that it was for the Father’s good pleasure that little children receive the truth! The children of this church are a delight – not just because they are smart, which they are – but because they believe what we tell them.

The children at Messy church are also a delight. I got a big hug from one on Friday – I only see him once a month. I’m sure the hug represents the acceptance and love he finds among our team of creative people there.

Children  have open hearts. And it helps when parents believe and model faith. It used to break my heart when I worked with 5 years-olds some of whom were cynical and said “there is no God”.  I guess they were imitating their parents.

And now verse 27:

Mat 11:27  “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Verse 27 is a fascinating verse. It’s been described as a “bolt from the Johannine heaven” because its sounds more like John! It’s a great Presbyterian verse!

It places all the emphasis on God’s choosing – the sovereignty of God! We’ve seen already in our conversation at a young adults focussed sermon (they chose the theme) that the conversation about free will and election is complicated and challenging!

What is lovely here is that the relationship between Father and Son is quite unique and special. And think of it this way – we have a glimpse of the amazing love of God through Jesus.

In what way do you think Jesus knew the Father? I should think that the extent of the amazing profound redeeming love of the Father was known to Him. Think of how Isaac trusted Abraham on that altar. Multiply that by an infinite number of times and you get a glimpse of the Father’s love – the Father who commits “all things” to the Son! This “knowledge” that they have of each other is quite exceptional. And we are invited into that relationship.

Think again of another prayer of Jesus: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

And after this comes the amazing invitation and directive:

Mat 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mat 11:30  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Here’s the real treat in the passage. If this were a meal (and it is because we should eat these words!) – here’s the main course!

The one that they accused of being a drunkard – the one which the wise and learned still reject – the one whose words cities that had seen miracles would not believe – plays his cards!

He issues the invitation above all other invitations! Yes “follow me”, “believe also in me” are all good and essential. “Come to me” is gold!

Come to me all! All who are WEARY AND BURDENED” AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST!

There are a number of ideas that come to mind when you think of rest! A siesta. RIP – which is long term! A snooze. Collapsing in a  heap…

The word is quite interesting – it’s really close to “respite” which is almost like recovery time.

This is not a laid back kind of Christian holiday camp.

The rest prepares you for the journey – for the yoke that Jesus has for you. The concept of a yoke was not unknown to them as a symbol of burden – even Peter uses the term at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. He says:

Act 15:10  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?

Take my yoke upon you is Jesus’ directive. And his reason for this is quite amazing, considering who He is:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (v29)

“Learn from me” says the best teacher in the world.  Why?

  1. “I am gentle and humble in heart”. Few teachers would claim that as their credentials. This is the Son of God giving us a reason to be yoked to Him – connected closely in a trusting relationship – by faith.
  2. You will find rest for your souls.

The prophet Jeremiah said this many years before: Jer 6:16  This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Sound familiar? “We will not walk in it” was their response to an invitation to go on the ancient path, the good way – where there would be rest for their souls! Tragic and still true of so many.

Here are some ideas I found which expand the concept of the yoke. I think they are quite useful.

The Yoke  (LMP)

Of love                                 L

If you think about it, the one we are yoked to has walked this way before! He is not unsympathetic. In fact he has been tested just like us! His temptations were real temptations. Jesus was fully human! So his empathy is real! It is a yoke of love as he helps carry and directs! It’s not a burden laid upon us like the Pharisees did – cold and harsh.

Of meek obedience       M

You can’t pull in the opposite direction! When you’re on Jesus’ road – obedience is not a chore either because there is wisdom in the one who has done this before! Like an ox – the older wiser ones teach the younger headstrong ones!

Of personal allegiance  P

It is “his” yoke – not a general impersonal journey with Jesus! In fact the first series I preached some 27 years ago when they finally let me loose as a preacher was “Journeys with Jesus” – “Journey with Jesus the one who satisfies! The bread of life! The living water!”

Of faith                                                F

The Yoke is a yoke of faith. It involves faith in the simplest yet deepest sense – TRUST! You have to be committed in faith to Jesus and trust Him when you choose to journey with Him in this way.

It’s risky too – who knows where he may lead you. Often on a Sunday we look at that challenge – what could the Lord be saying to you about your life and the world that needs the Gospel?

It speaks to our young people too – maybe God will call some to reach the ends of the earth with Good News! And Kiwis have great opportunities to work in interesting places – as this country has credibility that opens doors.

Of conscience                   C

And it’s the yoke of conscience! Imagine this – being yoked with Jesus means that HE goes where you go. That’s a bit limiting really. Or is it?

Just recently I told the story here about Tony Campolo – a great American preacher and sociologist – who describes how as a minister he used to pop into the pub – and someone would notice things and say loudly ‘HELLO PASTOR!”. Just so that the people would tone down the jokes.

It makes you think – doesn’t it – about wrong decisions – when Jesus is right alongside. It also makes you think about the things people share on-line – one has to ask whether they are a good Christian witness.

I think we need to pray more for our friends -and especially our children and grandchildren to be yoked with Jesus – to save them from being yoked to their peers or to society’s dodgy standards!

“You will find rest for your souls”

There is something deeply attractive about rest for your souls – not unlike that favourite Psalm – Psalm 23 in which David says HE RESTORES MY SOUL.

We come to him because we are physically weary and heavy laden, because he offers physical rest. But then we find a deeper rest – for our souls.

The deepest needs we have are met when yoked to Jesus.

We have to respond! Come unto me (all you who all you who are weary and burdened – “all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (KJV)) and I WILL GIVE YOU REST.

Will you come? When you do a new adventure begins:

 Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Mat 11:30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The easy and light bit has to be in comparison to other heavier loads placed on God’s people before Jesus. And of course still placed on people today by unscrupulous leaders.

It certainly keeps us on track. And the burden is symbolically halved by the image of the yoke.

In reality it’s the grace of  God that enables us to put our hand up and say “yoke me” – “strap me into the chair – wherever this machine goes I’m in”.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 15 December 2013 (Advent 3) – the depths of joy

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 1:46-55; Matthew  11:2-11

Message

The readings today are interesting. The one recording the words of Mary in the “Magnificat” (which is Latin for “it glorifies” – i.e. my soul) is an alternate reading to the Psalm for the day. (“magnificat anima mea Dominum”)

All of them refer to JOY – our key word symbolised by the one candle in the circle that is PINK!

The joy of the redeemed entering ZION singing! Isaiah says:    everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away

Jesus tells John some good news about what is happening – hopefully that brought him JOY in prison: , ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy  are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor…

There are good reasons here for people to be joyful. To rejoice. To be full of joy.

The danger at Christmas is that we miss the boat – that we get excited about the wrong things.

Of course getting what you wish for does bring joy!

Have a look at this clip to see the looks on peoples’ faces when they get what they want for Christmas:

Won’t you watch this WESTJET VIDEO

Gifts bring joy! I think it’s a great story!

The REAL deal is the REAL gift of Jesus!

It’s worth singing about. Mary’s song of praise was about the joy that comes from a relationship with God.

Look carefully at the words of Luke 1:

46 And Mary said:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour

The focus – before the gift of Jesus – is on the Lord. Her SOUL (the very depths of her being) glorifies the Lord (even though she is facing the challenge of her life – potential ridicule and shame and dishonour – she worships! She glorifies the Lord.

And in the next verse her SPIRIT – that aspect which makes her alive to God – rejoices in God my saviour!

There is a depth of connection between this young 14 year old girl – clearly BEFORE she encounters angels and pregnancy.

God has his hand upon young children early on – you can see it! The world conspires to knock faith out of them – it needs to be nurtured so that they can have lives set apart for God.

I knew it early on. I can’t explain it – it didn’t come from my family – it came from the Holy Spirit.

I was prayed for at the last healing service of the Presbytery – it was on a Thursday night. God’s affirmation is amazing! I too am rejoicing in God my saviour! I have a freedom to say to you – like Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 in that amazing and significant discussion on Marriage – “and I think that I too have the Spirit of God” – when people pull in the wrong direction or create strife. Or as he did when in discussion with the Philippians about being totally committed to Jesus and pressing on towards the goal of maturity – and of counting everything else as rubbish in comparison to the one thing of knowing Jesus – says: Php 3:15  All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

To get back to today’s reading – Mary would have been close to God before she was selected.

But there is another angle that is in the texts.

51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.

She declares – prophecies – that the humble and hungry are blessed by God.

Jesus – in the Gospel reading about John being in jail and sending a message to Jesus –‘are you the one?” – poor John having doubts in jail – who wouldn’t – gets this report:

the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

This is such a great story – it is good news! It’s worth singing about.

We don’t have a fancy choir to sing about it this year. SO I thought we could enjoy other people’s creativity:

Listen to the Bohemian Rhapsody Christmas musical extravaganza:

PLAY VIDEO – this a great story worth singing about!

What was your favourite line? Mine was this one:

“I’m just a shepherd, nobody loves me,

he’s just a shepherd from a poor family!”

That’s it!

For the most part of the world – people don’t get what they wish for at Christmas.

  • The poor (have you given to CWS sacrificially?)
  • Those in war zones (refugees like Jesus who escaped to Egypt)
  • Those in jail
  • The oppressed
  • You can extend the list

We end with the prophecy of Isaiah – which sings out about the joy of the Lord! We use to sing” Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads!” It goes like this:

But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing;     everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them,  and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Amen!

Sunday sermon 24 November 2013 – Christ the King

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

Sermon

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

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

plans and reality

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

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

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

Our preferred option is probably this:

reality of plan

New Year:

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

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

You can guess I suppose:

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

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

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

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

The best prayers for the year – and every year:

Probably –

help me

·        Help me – and

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

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

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

THE GOOD NEWS/THE JOYS

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

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

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

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

from-darkness-to-light04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke’s words are direct and stark:

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

So who are the people that Jesus forgives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus visual journey1

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

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

But look where it ends.

 Jesus outcome

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

Listen again to this terrible account: About this King!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom…

Your Kingdom! Take me:

Where will your future take you?

our future

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

·        From hopelessness to a future.

·        From pain to health

·        From isolation to community

·        From hell to heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Swanson comments on this in a poignant way.

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

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

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

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

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

 Amen.

Feel free to comment or ask questions below:

Sunday Sermon 16 December – Tidings of comfort and joy

Readings: Phil 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Here we are in the middle of Advent – on the Sunday where the theme is JOY – and we have enjoyed an amazing modern yet traditional children’s pageant.They told the Christmas story using borrowed adults from the congregation as actors and had angels prompting four different parts of the audience to call out at key moments in the tale. What a wonderful time. Every time we heard the word “angel” our sector leapt up and cried out “glory to God”. You get the idea! Great to see everyone having so much fun in celebrating this old old story.

And then the story “Annie’s Treasure” followed – for our little ones and oldies to enjoy together. The Gospel of Jesus the baby in the nativity scene with scarred marked hands. Jesus the boy whose birth we celebrate with joy – who was Jesus the crucified suffering God.

The candle for this Sunday in Lent is pink – while all the others are purple. Pink represents joy and reminds of times when people were more austere during Lent and not very festive. The pink candle let them off the hook, if you like.

Tidings of comfort and joy are desperately needed by so many at this time. For the families of those tragically killed in Connecticut, the happiness of the season is horribly marred with terrible shock, horror and grief. Such depth of comfort is needed.

Of course each day tragedies unfold around the globe, especially where little ones and innocent mums suffer from the ravages of war and terror. Perhaps we are immune to the endless bad news that we see on TV each day.

One has to say again that JOY is a far cry from the Happy Christmas that so many seek. Joy and the biblical idea of rejoicing is really deeper, richer and wider. It is so profound that Paul captures some of this sense when he writes in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
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.

For those in the depths of despair and grief at this time, the Lord is at hand too and only He in time can help them to deal with their pain. They may, in time, find the peace of God through prayer and petition. So too we in our anxiety need to look to Him for peace. So many people face illness, loneliness through bereavement, and real need at Christmas. We continue to love them and pray for them. I encourage you to take some time to visit them or give them a call.

John the Baptizer features again in the Gospel today, in a continuation of last week’s reading.  He continues to spell out the implications of his message calling for repentance in order to prepare the way for God to act. If people were to heed his message (in its practical applications of justice and sharing) there would be joy for many millions rather than the ongoing suffering we see. In verse 8 John bluntly declairs: Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

And he continues in verses 10 and 11 of chapter 3: “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

That would bring great joy to many if it were applied today. And John continues with clear instructions to tax collectors and soldiers that involve fair play and justice. For many that would bring great joy were such acts real in their lives.

Christian joy was something that came a lot later in the story. Yes there was rejoicing at His birth. But soon afterwards there was the “slaughter of the innocents” as the political ramifications of the birth of this King were played out by the paranoid King Herod the Great. There were weeping mothers on that day too. And years later after three years of powerful teaching with signs and wonders, Jesus’ confrontation of the truth in the lives of the rich and powerful culmunated in his execution on Calvary (the hill of the skull). And of course John – this powerful preacher and prophet – had been executed by another of those in the Herod dynasty – Herod Antipas.

It is some time later – after Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension – that this passage in Luke 3 begins to become a reality. In verses 15 and 16 we read these words: The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The ultimate source of transforming power was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – God in action in people making the life of Jesus real to them. It is no coincidence that the fruits of the spirit listed by Paul in Galatians 5 read, “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (5:22). Joy is something that God works in us by His transforming Spirit. It seems clear that we can’t “cook these things up” on our own. The fruit of the Spirit makes real transformation possible. A few of these fruits of character in the mix and the world again would be a better place.

Last year around this time I wrote these words on a related theme. I would like to revisit these thoughts as they take us further:

During the week ahead I would ask you to read Luke 1:1-25. It’s the story of the conception of John who features so much in these Advent readings as the one who prepares the way for Jesus. The anointing of the Holy Spirit on the infant John in his mother’s womb – before his birth – interests me. This man is anointed early on for his unique prophetic role in history. (Actually read the whole of Luke 1 as it explores the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary).

John lived a reclusive life and preached a tough message in a challenging context of an occupying force and religious leaders who had lost the plot. He was the last great prophet in that tradition. God raised him up in power and people repented of their sins.

Here’s a thought for you. You can sing the right songs – whatever that means for you – you can modernize or traditionalize your worship and church life. You can get it all right, so to speak, and have great sermons. You can run great programmes and do amazing things that bring delight to those who listen.

But there is no joy in what you do without the work of the Holy Spirit. The true joy is much wider and deeper – born out of a relationship of transformation by Jesus through the Spirit. It was through the Holy Spirit that John was empowered from the beginning. And despite his destiny he persistently pointed to Jesus the greater one. He made it clear that he was not the light – Jesus was. How much more we as ministers, elders, youth leaders, children’s workers, and members of the church and all its organisations. We are not here for our own pleasure. We are called to point to Jesus, and to minister to the world – showing the light of Jesus with joy and integrity. We are to reflect his light and shine in our world – in the power and joy of the Holy Spirit. Without His anointing we may miss God and miss the point of it all.

May the joy of Jesus become yours again! May we seek and experience the true anointing of the Holy Spirit in all we do.

Amen!