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Sunday sermon 4 October 2015 – dealing with the voices

MESSAGE

Psalm 55:4-8, 22 Page 892; 1 Peter 5:1-11 Page 1892; Luke 12 :25-34 Page 1618 (NIV)

CAN YOU REALLY FLY AWAY?

Let’s listen to a musical introit from Mendelsohn’s “O for the wings of a dove”  – the second part of “Hear my prayer”.  The first part of “Hear my prayer” is also from of Psalm 55, revealing the turmoil and the anguish of the writer who is calling on God for help in the face of the godless and various enemies. “O for the wings of a dove” is part of the prayer and seen as a way to ecape.

The singers are The Choirboys (2005) – a trio who were together for a short while.

In fact in Psalm 55 it is a close friend who has betrayed David. One of those worst disappointments. This is stuff that breaks your heart. Like betrayal in marriage. Divorce and separation. Or conflict of any sort that is too hard to bear.

The idea that one can escape with the wings of a dove is not a bad one.

Go off into the wilderness. The desert fathers did that – shifted into a parallel zone to be connected with God in a deeper way – a conscious choice to be in that zone. For them the wilderness was a place of solitude and solitude.

We need that too – that ability to find a place of “repose” – restfulness and tranquillity – calm and peacefulness.

Our prayer life is part of that – plus our ability to zone out in other ways – through rest, music, reading and creative writing. Journal keeping – drawing – whatever works for us. For some its running!

IT’S IN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THAT THE PEACE IS FOUND

The impulsive apostle Peter – in his older wiser days when he stopped putting his foot into things – wrote this:

1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

The Christians then were persecuted – many were dying for their faith too like today.

There is a way forward, says Peter. Rest in the Lord – cast your anxieties on him – because he cares for you.

Just as in Psalm 55:22 David grounds his trust in this faithful God too: Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…

This being peaceful – “chillaxing” as the young people say today – is not a complacency however. The verse that follow make that very clear:

1Pe 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1Pe 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

There is a war on.

The Apostle Paul supports Peter in this idea of standing firm – in this locus classicus or key passage in the New Testament on spiritual battles:

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Eph 6:11  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Eph 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Eph 6:13  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Eph 6:14  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

Eph 6:15  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Of course there is more – and this too is grounded in the word of God (remember our discussion last week about the two sides of the same coin?) and prayer through the Holy Spirit:

Eph 6:16  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Eph 6:17  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Eph 6:18  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 

JESUS REENFORCES THIS STANDING FIRM IN HIS TEACHING IN THE GOSPELS

  • This steadiness – ability to fly away into a safe zone…
  • The fear, worry and anxiety we deal with – is to be left with God. They are distractions in the big picture of the battle for truth – the Truth of God, His Kingdom, and his desire and purpose for the world.

Yes – this is true! Listen again to the links in the readings today:

  • Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…”
  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Jesus says this too elsewhere:

Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

And in today’s reading from Luke 12:

Luk 12:25  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Luk 12:26  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

He’s really saying – cut the c**p! This obsession with stuff! And your needs in the consumer Christian cult we all get sucked into.

Luk 12:29  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.

Luk 12:30  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Luk 12:33  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luk 12:34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your treasure in heaven is not really, primarily, about a bigger and better mansion that you invest in the sky (the idea that if you don’t you’ll just get a batch with bad/Asian/English/South African neighbours – or whatever matches your prejudice.) And don’t be anxious and fearful.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

The Kingdom. Has been pleased to give you… Now! Its values – its economics. Its purpose for living – living out Kingdom values and standardsseeking the Kingdom above other things – bringing people into the Kingdom – investing your tithes (still 10%) into the work of the Kingdom through first and foremost the local church.  It’s about doing the works that God gives you.

Remember the women at the well story and sermon? When they went shopping and Jesus was able to get on with things? Remember the food debate? Here it is in John 4:

Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

His work was the very substance of his being. Obedience and redemption. These are bread and butter issues, if you like.

Jesus’ work was a war too.

When Jesus once healed on the Sabbath, they accused him of doing the work of Beelzebub – Lord of the flies. The devil. The Satan – is the correct way of talking about him. Here’s the passage in Matthew 12 this time:

Mat 12:24  But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Mat 12:25  Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

Mat 12:26  If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

Mat 12:27  And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

Mat 12:28  But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

You can’t do his stuff – his work – unless you are steady – grounded – standing firm and alert – with your intelligence operatives doing their job.

Jesus’s work on earth ended on the cross. But the story didn’t end there. This is the Kingdom of the 3rd day. Resurrection. And giving the Spirit. And His intercession for us. And His coming again in the future to judge us all.

It’s what David didn’t live after – he lived before it. We live after the resurrection. We know the results of the real World Cup.

But David knew it was coming. He spoke of Messiah aka Christ:

Psa 110:1  Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” 

When people asked Jesus this question, he referred to this. 

Mat 22:42  “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.

Mat 22:43  He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

Mat 22:44  “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘

Mat 22:45  If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Mat 22:46  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

The wrestling in prayer is no easy task. Jesus had his time in the wilderness – but it was not a place of rest and refuge. It was a struggle with the voices that challenged his identity and destiny. (He was led there by the Spirit!)

And in the garden of Gethsemane too. He didn’t ask then to fly away like a dove.

He did pray this though:

(Mat 26:36  Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Mat 26:37  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.)

Mat 26:38  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mat 26:39  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

(Mat 26:40  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

Mat 26:41  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”)

Mat 26:42  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

(Mat 26:43  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.)

Mat 26:44  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

In his temptations it was “If you are the son of God…”. In Gethsemane it was about facing the suffering and darkness of the sins of the world. It was being the Lamb of God – except unlike the lambs at Passover who had no idea what was coming – he knew exactly. And like David, he knew the betrayal of a close friend. He need to know in all this that he was the beloved Son of God. He needed the voice he heard at his baptism again – and his transfiguration. Here are the passages from the ESV:

Mat 3:16  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;

Mat 3:17  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Mar 9:7  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 

WHAT ABOUT US?

Henri Nouwen put it like this:

“Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, ‘Prove that you are a good person.’ Another voice says, ‘You’d better be ashamed of yourself.’ There also is a voice that says, ‘Nobody really cares about you,’ and one that says, ‘Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.’

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.’” 

  • Music – helps you step out of the zone into his peace. It’s God’s gift.
  • Reflection – helps too, like meditation on his word.
  • Quietness – be still and know (Psalm 46) or Stillness.
  • In the face of terror – Escape like a dove to those safe places.
  • Standing firm – in the face of Terror – is in His strength alone.
  • Being strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

This is us. Amen.

Receive the blessing – from the choirboys again:

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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 1 September – Signs of the Kingdom

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

So about the Kingdom of God.

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

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

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

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

WHEN JESUS IS KING

When Jesus is King – your values and ethics change.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love it! (Applause)!

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

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

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

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

So we say with confidence,

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

And then the writer goes on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yay God! Amen!

Sunday sermon @ 9.30am Combined Service – A Kingdom that cannot be shaken

Readings: Hebrews 12:18-29

Matthew 6:24-34

Focus verses (NRSV): Mat 6:33  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Mat 6:34  “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I wonder what your idea of the Kingdom of God is.

Do you think we really seek the Kingdom first – as we used to sing in that song “seek ye first the Kingdom of God! With all those Hallelujahs? Hallelujah (x6).

Today is a day on which we do the formal stuff as church – we have regulations which keep us honest and accountable – hence our meeting later today.

I worshipped in the local church where my niece was married on the last two Sundays. And they’re no different from us really – a bunch of Christians doing church together.

It was all very familiar – songs, musicians, pray-ers and preachers. Doing Church.

But striving first for the Kingdom of God (quoting the NRSV) is another matter.

We like the passage in Matthew 6 because we are a bunch of worry-pots. And it gives us perspective – especially in verse 34 – don’t worry about tomorrow. “Don’t worry be happy” comes to mind.

And the context allows for that focus.  Context is everything in our Bible reading. Remember – whenever you see a “therefore” you need to ask what it is there for!

After all Matthew 6:31-32 say this: Mat 6:31  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

Mat 6:32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

We don’t particularly want to be categorised as Gentiles – although I suspect we do spend a lot of time on what we eat drink and wear, perhaps more so the ladies when it comes to clothes! J

Striving first for His Kingdom and His righteousness is a life-changing route to take. We need to be steeped in Jesus’ view of the Father of lights – the one who does not change like the shifting shadows (James 1) and who is is the source of every good and perfect gift!

It’s about the real focus of our lives. And WORSHIP is at the heart of this.

The letter to the Hebrews records these words: Heb 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; Heb 12:29  for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

I won’t go into the details of the passage we heard today from Hebrews. It’s an interesting comparison between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion – and it is a sobering passage with a warning about putting God first in our lives.

The crunch is – do we put God and His kingdom first? DO we? And what are the signs?

  • It manifests in our worship – we would be here at every opportunity – to worship God – without our pickiness and issues over how we do it – we should be so obsessed with the Kingdom and the King that there would never be a missed Sunday!
  • It manifests in our knowledge of God and his character and ways – our knowledge of the Bible is at the heart of this. We would be digging for Gold – in a kind of a spiritual gold rush – wanting to know more about God and His righteousness – his better way of loving, forgiving, and reconciling. The Gold rushes are an interesting picture to hold up as a parable – people went to extremes to find Gold! How much more should we not be passionate about Seeking God’s Kingdom, His presence, His truth, and His way of doing things in life!
  • And it manifests in our giving. If our lives depended upon generous giving – we would never be short in the work of the Lord. Just as we must pay the electricity bill to keep the lights on – so too churches would not be juggling funds and battling to do great things for God – if people were striving for the Kingdom. We’d be wanting to be sure that we care for people well – nurture them and disciple them – and find the best ways to reach this generation with the Good News!

That makes our Annual Congregational meeting a very spiritual thing – as we take up the challenge of approving a budget that requires a huge increase in giving.

The budget says – this is what we believe about the Kingdom of God!

To close this reflection about our striving for the Kingdom of God – which manifests in commitment to worship – commitment to knowing our Bibles – and commitment to supporting the work of the Kingdom in this place – I want to refer to Paul.

In his letter to the Philippians we read these powerful words of St Paul:

Php 3:7  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Php 3:9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Php 3:10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

Php 3:11  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Php 3:12  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Php 3:13  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

Php 3:14  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Php 3:15  All of us 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.

In other words -says Paul – God will help you get on board with the right agenda!

The key verse is verse 8: Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

It is a stark comparison of his old life without Christ and the new life he came to receive.

“The surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” is the issue.

Do we regard this as THE ISSUE – the main priority in our lives?

Are we – like Paul – willing to lose all things – considering them as rubbish in comparison?

There it is. You know that I can’t answer that – only you can. And God knows your heart.

This is about God first – Kingdom first – His righteousness first. What a powerful challenge. What a wonderful privilege. What an awesome responsibility. Gold!

The rest will be shaken – as the earthquakes jolt our cities and as the very foundations of what we used to hold dear in life – from a moral and ethical perspective – are shaken – we must hear these words again:

Heb 12:28  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;

Heb 12:29  for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 7 July – Ambassadors for Jesus

Readings:

2 Corinthians 9:5-12

Galatians 6:7-16

Luke 10:1-10; 16-20


Introduction

 

A story is told about a man who was on a luxury liner and suddenly he falls overboard. He can’t swim and in desperation he begins calling for help. Now it just so happens that there were several would be rescuers on deck who witnessed the incident.

 

·         The first man was a MORALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately reached into his briefcase and pulled out a book on how to swim. He now tossed it to him and he yelled: Now brother, you read that and just follow the instructions and you will be alright.

 

·         The man next to him happened to be an IDEALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately jumped into the water and began swimming all around the drowning man saying: Now just watch me swim. Do as I do and you will be alright.

 

·         The person next to him happened to be a member of the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH. He looked upon the drowning man’s plight with deep concern. He yelled out: Now, just hold on friend. Help is on the way. We are going to establish a committee and dialogue your problem. And then, if we have come up with the proper financing, we will resolve your dilemma.

 

·         The next man on deck happened to be a representative of the school of POSITIVE THINKING. He yelled out to the drowning man: “Friend, this situation is not nearly as bad as you think. Think dry!”

 

·         The next man on board happened to be a REVIVALIST. By this time the drowning man was going down for the third time and desperately began waving his arm. Seeing that, the revivalist yelled out: Yes brother, I see that hand, is there another? Is there another?

 

·         And finally, the last man on deck, was a REALIST. He immediately plunged into the water, at the risk of his own life, and pulled the victim to safety.

 

 

Message

So what did you think of the readings today?

I wonder if you noticed what they had in common?

·         Yes they were in English

·         Yes they were both from the New Testament

·         They referred in one way or another to sowing, reaping and harvest. And harvest is, amongst other things in the bible, a metaphor, a picture or a way of understanding what we invest in – when we share the gospel and people come to faith.

Harvesting is about that critical time really – when the crops have to be collected. Whether by hand or huge combined harvesters – it is a critical time.

I recall seeing a brilliant video presentation on mission – using the harvest as the key image (as it is used in Scripture) when a family had lost their farming dad – and they felt paralysed when harvest time came – the job was too big. And early one morning – there was this roar of engines in the distance – before sunrise – they could hear the noise getting closer and closer. And there they were – the whole community of farmers came along with these huge machines – and reaped the harvest.

It was brilliant! It spoke about community, unity, and a common purpose. The Christian church in many places has none of those. Not community, not unity, and not a common purpose.

There are glimpses. There are moments. There are times when Christians seem to get it right. But often we are not like a mighty army, as the hymn declares, but like a mighty tortoise – plodding along. And when it gets too hard – we pull our heads in and hide in our shells.

God is calling the church in this generation to its true mission. We are a lifesaving station that is still to save lives. We are to jump into the water and rescue people.

We are called. We are called to follow Jesus and to help others find and follow him.

Frankly – we are so grumpy and selfish sometimes that we should not be surprised if people think we ourselves need saving from ourselves!

I watched this classic TV clip this week – a nice BBC weather presenter was caught after she had done the weather forecast – she thought the cameras were off and boy was she grumpy.

Let’s have a look at her…

http://video.au.msn.com/watch/video/9raw-weather-girls-eye-roll-goes-viral/xnd06zc?cpkey=d3bb0ec3-a7b3-42b0-b69f-24f34573c787%257c%257c%257c%257c

We can be like that too – our true colours eventually pop out under pressure.

Of course pastors can have a bad day too. Try this one as an example. You don’t have to watch the whole video – you get the idea of being grumpy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJt-LHMNRY

Now if I have sounded like that – I humbly apologise! I probably have had some bad days! But Pastor Jim tops them all!

It seems to me that Jesus is calling us to a consistency in our behaviour – that whatever we do and are on Sunday should be who we are every day! When the cameras are off too! We can’t be one thing on a Sunday and than indifferent on a Monday when it comes to our witness and care for people.

Jesus seemed overly and enthusiastically interested in getting people to do what he did as he reached out to people with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

It was clearly more than the 12 original disciples.

In Luke 10 he sends out 70 – or 72.

Now I know that the issues were different. Clearly they had “superpowers” – healing the sick and casting out demons.

Some have suggested that this was a one-off thing.

It certainly was different – and it was before Pentecost.

We do pray for the sick – and there are those in this generation who cast out demons.

Put that aside for now – and ask yourself this question.

What did they talk about? What was the conversation about?

What captivated their imagination? Probably these factors:

  • Jesus. They were his followers. Consequently they were
  • Obedience. Or at least a willingness to have a go! He sent them out and they went!

  • Risk taking – they were to get up and go! Crossing boundaries of all sorts.
  • They were not to be individualists – rather they were to go two by two with little luggage.
  • They were to be dependent on the hospitality of others! That too is risky!
  • They acted out and talked about the Kingdom of God.

And as part of their arriving they had a commodity that they traded with. Anyone pick that up? What was it? Healing? Preaching? NO – peace!

‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 

How do we really understand this?

I think perhaps by comparing it with what they were instructed  to do if things failed:

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

If you extend peace – and you find a similarly minded (peaceful) person there who also promotes peace – your peace will rest on them.

If not – it will bounce back like an email sent to the wrong address.

In the context of extending the Kingdom of God through our ministry – outreach – care in the community – it seems to be about building with people who are open to what we offer – the peace of God.

The peace of God is not just a nice feeling – or a Miss World wish “I’m working for world peace ALL OVER THE WORLD!” It’s the gospel of reconciliation in one word! Listen to these passages:

  • Joh_14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Jesus’ gift of peace).
  • Act_10:36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Peter is preaching here).
  • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Paul is speaking here).

The whole story (the kerygma or message) of Jesus is about a peace mission from heaven – about God reaching out to people who were estranged from him – in Jesus, and through Jesus’ followers today.

So really it’s about all of us and all of the gospel.

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

 Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. 
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world. 
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. 
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

 The harvesting image is really significant.

Sowing and reaping.

Paul uses that image to talk about giving in 2 Corinthians 9. What we give here counts towards the Kingdom – we are investing in the things that matter to Jesus – the reaching of those who need His gospel of peace.

Two quotes from writers illustrate this:

  1. This is not a hobby. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  He was talking not about a hobby, but a life’s work.  You can see the kingdom come upif you’re willing to get your hands dirty–– and spend some time on your knees.” (Lawrence Wood)
  1. The church should be a community of dates instead of pumpkins.Pumpkins you can harvest in six months.Dates have to be planted and tended by people who will not live to harvest them.Dates are for future generations. (George Chauncey)

It is clear that we are messengers of Jesus – representatives. Paul speaks this kind of language when he talks about believers being a new creation in Christ. Do you remember the passage? I referred to it two weeks ago. Yes 2 Corinthians 5:17. Listen to it again and the verses that follow:

2Co 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2Co 5:18  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

2Co 5:19  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

2Co 5:20  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2Co 5:21  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are Christ’s ambassadors.

There are some pretty powerful images associated with that. Think of that nice Australian man Julian Assange. Been in an embassy in London for almost a year. Where is he? Actually he’s in Ecuador! In the Embassy.

Or that nice young American Mr Edward Snowden. Trying to find a bit of turf in an embassy to escape the wrath of America. Whistle blower, or spy? People have different views on this.

But like all fugitives embassies are useful places if they are friendly nations! (Think of the old Skp movies with the KGB or James Bond). Embassies are a piece of one country planted in another, and ambassadors speak with the authority of the country that sends them.

We are ambassadors of Christ – no wonder Jesus said in verse 16 of the Gospel reading today:

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

Man that’s good. We are citizens of a different Kingdom. Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.

We are ambassadors of that Kingdom – God’s kingdom. No pressure. Really.

Yes there is – because we can be pretty bad ambassadors. Like silent witnesses. Not much help really.

It does take the pressure off though. Because if our mission is rejected – if we are rejected because of our beliefs and what we stand for and proclaim – those guys are rejecting Jesus – and by rejecting Jesus the missionary (the sent one) – they are rejecting the one who sent Jesus – God!

Of course the 70 get a bit carried away in their report back:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’

Cool hey Jesus! Pretty cool! Super followers! Way to go!

Listen to what he says:

20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Why? Is that not a bit selfish? Yay – I have a ticket to heaven! Woo hoo!

Actually no. It’s a profound thing that is being said by the Lord Jesus here. This is the beginning of a new people – a new family of faith – the people of God which would be made up by guys and girls from all around the globe – every tribe and nation – every language and colour – this is the people of God – the church – in it’s very first form.

You think you’ve been a member of the church for ever! Try these guys for vintage!

I don’t have the words for how profound this is. Paul writing to the Ephesians says it best. We’ll end with these words:

Eph 2:11  Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—

Eph 2:12  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

 

Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

 

Eph 2:14  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Eph 2:15  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,

Eph 2:16  and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

 

Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

 

Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

 

Eph 2:19  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

Eph 2:20  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

 

Eph 2:21  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Eph 2:22  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

So there is some harvesting to be done.

It may begin with you and I sowing the seeds right where we are at this point in our lives. That is our mission. That’s what we invest in through our tithes and offerings – the work of making this place an outpost of the Kingdom, a kind of embassy where his ambassadors gather to be briefed, to report back, and to be sent out in His name.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 November – Christ the King

Christ the King.

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-134; Phil 2:8-15; John 18:33-37; Rev 1:4-8

I read an account this week of a Canadian lady who lives in two worlds, so to speak. Not heaven and earth – but in two countries. Her name is Cecille and she visits the United States dozens of times a day – when she makes tea, for example, or goes to the backdoor or the fridge. She reads and sleeps in Canada though. And she eats in Canada – because she sits at the north end of her dining room table.

The reason? Her house was already there in 1842 when politicians decided in London where the official boundary line would be. A citizen of Canada, she spends a lot of her time in another country while staying in the same place. Sound familiar to you?

It’s a great story and a kind of a parable of the Christian life for us.

Paul tells us in Philippians (not read today):

Php 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Php 3:20  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Php 3:21  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Citizenship in heaven. And yet we live totally absorbed with the things of this world. And when Jesus’ ministry got going He preached about the Kingdom coming! In their midst!

We live in two Kingdoms.

Today’s Gospel reading

In the Gospel reading today Pilate and Jesus are talking about Jesus as King but they are talking about different Kingdoms.

It’s a fascinating conversation that John records for us. Listen again.

Joh 18:33  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:34  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Joh 18:35  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Joh 18:36  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Joh 18:37  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Pilate would have no issue with the idea of Jesus as King of the Jews. A bit bizarre, that’s all. Not a threat. He’s just a bible teacher from a small town.

Pilate is a pragmatic politician. He tries to figure this out and therefore asks a great question:

“What is it you have done?”

Of course this doesn’t really help him, because Jesus’ answer is couched in language and concepts of the other world – another reality – the other “Kingdom” to which he belongs:

Joh 18:36  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

That is troublesome really for Pilate. He can only respond with “You are a king, then!”  One can only imagine what he was thinking. You are a king -or not. What on earth are you talking about?

Jesus makes it as clear as he can for this Roman: He answers:  “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

I had this great discussion this week with one of our elders about a verse in Matthew which goes like this:

Mat 7:6  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. (If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.)

Well maybe this is an example of a tremendous truth that simply goes over someone’s head – because they’re not there. There is no way Pilate was going to understand the truth of Jesus and his Kingdom.

We live in these two worlds then. And what people believe about Jesus (in the Christian family) swings between these two worlds in a sense. There are those who believe that it is our job to make Jesus Lord and King of this world – so they fight for truth and justice.

And they are right in a sense – even if they become nutter activists. They plunge into the affairs of this world – or worse still spend all their time debating the affairs of this world – the politicians, the political parties, the social issues of poverty and corruption. Some just talk about the stuff all the time – using the social media or any opportunity to debate causes. They don’t always get involved of course.

One can’t dispute the fact that God calls people to be social reformers. The William Wilberforces of this world are a gift to all – it was he who spent his whole life fighting slavery. Watch “Amazing Grace” sometime and you will get what I mean.

And then on the opposite extreme there are those who spend all their energy and time focussing on spiritual matters – the Kingdom of God and its benefits for us as Christians – with equally unbalanced ways of doing things that are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.

BOTH ARE REAL AND NECESSARY

Both worlds are real and necessary. Don’t we pray each week” Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

If our Canadian lady who lives in her house which straddles a national border were to spend all her time at the backdoor or at the fridge (in America), she would not get to sleep at all (which she does in Canada).

It is a pretty strange kind of way to live, but Christians are a peculiar lot anyway. The old KJV calls us a “peculiar people” which is rather nice. (1 Peter 2:9 – meaning his own possession).

Extreme 1

We can’t retreat permanently from the world and spend our time “in church” gazing upwards and enjoying being with the Lord all the time. Not normally at any rate (although God does call some people to a permanent retreat at times).

We do need to look past the obvious and life and stare into the eternal – we need to be in relationship with Jesus our King because he is not only the one who gives us our orders, but he is the one who empowers us and gives us all we need to be his people in the world. And he calls us to get involved in the world of pain, suffering, hunger, disease and heartache.

Extreme 2

Likewise we can’t spend all our time in the struggles of this world, as that too would mean half the job done. We are to be there with a purpose – and point people to the other Kingdom – to the King who in the most amazing way defines everything that makes sense about Kingship. A Christian who doesn’t point people to Jesus and the gospel becomes a political or social activist and no longer a servant of the Kingdom of God.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD KING?

Since Prince Charles came to visit with his old friend and now wife Camilla, the debate about royalty has started up here again.

And the basic question is this – “what makes for a good king?” What kind of King would this be?

In fact the whole trial and crucifixion is about this issue. Even from his birth it was clear that Jesus was to be a king:

  • Mat_2:2  and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” The wise men present him gold – fit for a king – as one of his gifts.
  • Early on he is identified in this way: Joh_1:49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
  • Then they tried to make him king here – when he fed the 5000 with a boy’s lunch (potential to solve world food shortages!): Joh_6:15  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
  • And of course about Palm Sunday when he road into Jerusalem – John quotes the Old Testament: Joh_12:15  “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Quoting Zechariah 9:9)

THE TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION

  • And as the trial progresses we hear Pilate saying: Joh_18:39  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
  • And then the soldiers: Joh_19:3  and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
  • And the story continues:  Joh_19:12  From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
    • Joh_19:14  It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
    • Joh_19:15  But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

 Joh_19:19  Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The question is – what kind of King?

In his human life – a servant king – touching the untouchables, restoring the broken, dying on a tree for our sins.

In his RESURRECTION raised in glorious splendour – the one who is to be worshipped as Lord, the one before whom every knee shall bow.

There is Jesus the human and Jesus the Divine. And His Kingdom had its effect on those around him as the future broke into the present – the sick were healed, the dead raised, and demons – evil spirits – defeated.

We live in between the then and the not yet – our now is a battle as we try to resist the devil who wants to suck us back into his kingdom of darkness.

Peter –who tells us to resist the devil – also writes this (which we have referred to already in regard to the word “peculiar”):

1Pe_2:9  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

KINGDOM CHOICES AND CALLING

Let’s not be duped into thinking that this is just a question of choosing to be nice rather than unpleasant. Sometimes we reduce the Christian journey to a matter of ethical choices – like those who make Jesus a good teacher and no more.

This is war. The darkness and the light are at war with each other.

The truth prevails. As it will in every human conflict. Those who try to manipulate the truth will be exposed.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO PILATE IN TODAY’S READING

Pilate tried to crucify the Truth!

Putting a crown of thorns on Jesus and a mocking sign “The King of the Jews” would not change that. And in a fascinating twist Pilate was in fact announcing the truth about Jesus.

  • Pilate embodies the opposite of Jesus’ Kingdom. He controls and keeps the peace so that he will keep control and therefore keep his job. He lords it over people. He kills Jesus.
  • Jesus on the other hand empowers others and washes the feet of those he leads.
  • Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm.
  • Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror.
  • Pilate’s power comes from Caesar and is temporary.
  • Jesus’ authority comes from God and is eternal.

And from the cross Jesus is the suffering servant in the complete sense. Forgiving them. And even caring for them by creating a new community – when he appoints John as Mary’s son and Mary as John’s mother, this is more than just a family and friend thing. It’s a whole new community of love that is greater than family ties, gender, race and earthly citizenship. It’s the church that is being born – God’s family on earth – and the people who are showing forth the Kingdom.

So this is “Christ the King” Sunday.

All this information about Jesus and what he did to achieve our salvation and freedom is known to us. Paul reminds us that as a result of his death, he is exalted as Lord of all. Listen again:

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

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

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

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

And so much in the New Testament is shaped by this passage from Daniel 7:

Dan 7:9  “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

Dan 7:10  A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.

Dan 7:13  “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

Dan 7:14  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

IS HE YOUR KING?

The bottom line is this: Is He our King? Or do we serve others? Are we really passionate about His Kingdom? It influences who we are and everything we do. Listen again to John in Revelation 1:5-6:

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

THE KINGDOM IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

One commentator puts it this way:

We are made a kingdom (RSV). John gives us here a fascinating insight into the kingdom theology of the New Testament. The kingdom of God is not seen in the New Testament in territorial terms, but rather in relationship terms. “It is the Kingly Reign of Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer).

Ordinary and garden-variety people who receive the love and freedom from Christ are the ones who, as we are willing to become Christ’s servants (Rev_1:1), thereby become His very kingdom in the world.

The apostle John continues: Rev 1:7  Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

Rev 1:8  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Those who don’t believe will see eventually. In the meantime we live to praise His name and to proclaim His Kingdom – living it out in community here in this place.

May this truth be real for us today.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 4 November – All Saints Sunday

Readings: Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 19:6-10

INTRODUCTION

STORY: “For all the saints”

In our last congregation I used to preach occasionally (my main work was as a College Chaplain). Towards the end of the vacancy just before the new priest’s induction I spoke to the congregation and in my sermon suggested that a bad hymn to sing at the new person’s induction was “For all the saints who from their labours rest” – as it might send the wrong signal to the church members who had been involved in ministry through that time that once the new priest was installed they could all stop what they were doing and put their feet up. At his induction they did indeed sing that hymn which he chose (as the congregation was called “All Saints”.) Of course there were some giggles during the hymn. At least some of them had remembered my warning.

The traditional view of saints is great people of God who have now died and are with Him. – thus in some traditions they are seen as mediators – people pray through saints – and various ones are allocated to certain tasks.

Can you think of the most famous? Probably St Christopher – (his name means “bearer of Christ” – he carried the boy Christ as you can see on a St Christopher emblem). I don’t know of too many apart from him. St Andrew maybe – the patron Saint of Scotland. Think of all the Presbyterian churches called “St Andrews” – for those who don’t know most of our Presbyterian churches were started here in New Zealand by and for Scottish emigrants.

I think the fact that there are 10 000 catholic saints means people can be forgiven for not remembering them all. Luckily if you need to know each day there is an app for your Iphone – and the saint of the day will pop up for you.

I do know this – that for some reason there are three saints for Brewers! St. Luke, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Hippo.

And only one for Clergy – ministers like me, a saint ominously called St Gabriel of our Lady of sorrows (d. 27 Feb 1862). The poor guy died at age 24. Clearly there is a link to pastors and clergy being worn out entirely! Actually he died of TB and was known to be a nice guy – which is perhaps why they adopted him as the patron saint of clergy. We are told this of him: Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule (1741) as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.

THE BIBLICAL VIEW:

We are saints – holy ones – justified (made righteous) by faith and holy (set apart) for God and his service, and sanctified in Christ.

We use the word “saints” as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (NRSV)

ALL ARE SAINTS THEN.

And curiously Paul says this in his greeting to the Corinthians – and then he outlines their terrible faults! Like getting drunk at communion and sexual sins, and abuse of spiritual gifts.

We are SAINTS in God’s sight – holy – because Jesus has died for us! And his gift of righteousness is given to us. (Romans 3:21-22).

We become children of God through faith in Jesus! And there is clearly an expectation that we should behave like God’s children!

We are therefore to be transformed into his likeness – and the Holy Spirit does this through the application of the Word of God.  (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18)

So when reading the Essential Jesus readings, we should not be fussing about whether we like the commentary that goes with it.

We should be asking God to apply the Word to our lives through His Spirit – so that we become more like Jesus.

That is the call of God on all the saints – on all of us who are Christ-followers.

MY PRIORITIES as a minister are worth a reminder.

How easily we get sidetracked. Meetings and minutes. Parking and preferences. Traditions and timetables – how long the service went over time and all the other issues we have.

All this church stuff!

My job is very simple – is to keep the church on track so that we become like Jesus and do the things Jesus wants us to do!

My job is not YOUR HAPPINESS! Or mine for that matter.

It’s getting us all to really do God’s will.

THE BEATITUDES which we have read often – the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount – describe lives that are different from the rest. They describe God’s will for us. Let’s have a look at what they are about.

There’s this old hymn about the saints in heaven and on earth that goes: O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. (The church’s one foundation.)

Happiness and holiness? Do they go together?

The beatitudes are often translated using the word “happy”. So for example we have the Good News Bible:

Mat 5:3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Mat 5:4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!

Mat 5:5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!

Mat 5:6  “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!

Mat 5:7  “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!

Mat 5:8  “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!

Mat 5:9  “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!

Mat 5:10  “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Mat 5:11  “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.

When you read that you can’t help but think – surely that is NOT a happy situation!!

Perhaps blessed, fortunate, privileged would be better.

The word in Matthew 5 is MAKARIOS (blessed) and was used to describe the saints who were often martyed. As one commentator puts it, ‘It is hard to picture a smile on the face of Polycarp or Justin as they were being burned or beheaded. Yet, “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus declares.’

SO WHAT KIND OF SAINTS DO WE WANT TO BE?

Simply obedient ones. Like that nice young man who is the patron saint of clergy – St Gabriel.

What does this all mean for the saints gathered in this church this All Saints Sunday?

Not only do we remember those who faithfully served the Lord and influenced our lives – helping us on the right track – those who are gone before us.

In the words of a writer on this passage: “It also means that we should align ourselves today with the historic chorus of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who in happiness or difficulty, found their hope in Jesus and made their way as part of the kingdom of God.”

Hebrews puts it this way:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (12:1-2a)

And let’s focus on two of Jesus’ Beatitudes and take them for ourselves today:

Many of them are about our lives – mourning, the earth, being peacemakers, being merciful and persecution. They are all good – and challenging.

Two of them stand out:

Mat 5:6  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Mat 5:8  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

They are matters of priority and our deepest desires, matters of the heart – and they relate to God.

We hunger and thirst for many things. But this is not about physical needs. It’s about our deepest needs and our fundamental orientation. And our hearts – the deepest emotional driver in us.

While we recognise that we are saints because our righteousness (in the legal sense of being made right with God – justified by faith – so that our sins are dealt with) – our orientation – our direction in life – has to be towards what is right and pure.

We spoke about forgiveness last week – and how we need to forgive.

The fact that we have to forgive so often is because our lives are so fettered by sin and disobedience – things that are the opposite of what God wants for us.

We need to be honest that we are often far from God and that our lives don’t really show God’s Kingdom values.

It’s no wonder that the first line of the Sermon on the Mount is this:

Mat 5:3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When you know your need of God – then it all happens.

Conversely – when you are self-satisfied – you miss the bus entirely!

THE SAINTS ARE IN OUR MIDST IF WE LOOK HARD ENOUGH

God is at work in this place in ordinary people. If you look hard enough you will see.

And it’s not about all the things we DO for God or the church. We tend to say “what a saint – they DO so much” while we sit back like the saints “who from their labours rest” – a bit too early! The tasks at hand can be shared and should be.

If you look hard enough you see acts of grace and kindness – people of courage who have mourned and are being comforted as they find new ways to live as single people again – people who have been persecuted for righteousness sake – people who don’t try to defend themselves, but simply keep going doing what God shows them to do.

You see these saints in our midst when their hearts are broken when they see people suffer – and especially when they see people so far from God who need to receive his touch. They’d do anything to help them discover the Gospel. They use their time and resources to make things happen here because they know that the local church is where God can really work in a community to reach the lost.

These are signs of the Kingdom of God really – where people are manifestly different in the way they live and behave – not drawing attention to themselves and not harping on about their agendas and rights – but simply serving the Lord and others as they reach out with the love of Christ and good news and share it with others.

They show mercy. They exhibit meekness. But most of all it’s their hungering and thirsting after righteousness that makes them blessed and a blessing – and their purity of heart.

Not only do they see God in the sense of a real relationship they have with Him – you see the Lord in them too.

For these people who impact our lives we are immensely grateful.

May we be like them.

We can be like them.

We can get on the right track.

This orientation of our lives is more important than how long church is, whether the music is too loud, or we have to change the times of our meetings or can’t park in our favourite space. This orientation of our lives is more important than if the preacher lost his way in the sermon, the service was too long, or we didn’t know the songs on a particular Sunday.

It’s about becoming like Jesus. Once again:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Prayer:

Your Kingdom come

Your will be done – in our lives, Lord Jesus.

Amen.