Blog Archives

3 September 2017 Sunday Message – Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans series ctd.)

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Message:

Do you like reading letters?. In the case of the bible’s letters, the people who chose these readings in our Lectionary usually leave the difficult bits out and choose the good bits to be read.

Well they were real letters. And when I look back on some family letters, in some cases there are always some difficult bits.

We’re back in Romans 12 today. We will get to Romans 13 – the first part is left out from the lectionary because it is challenging. It’s about God and government. And yes, my mother also taught me that you didn’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table. No wonder people avoid Romans 13 when it brings those two together. We will get there before the election. Something to look forward to.

We’ve looked at Romans 12 on leadership. I’ve suggested that if you have gifts, best not leave them in a cupboard somewhere. Use them. And as a church we are listening to Paul who says – let people use them in accordance with their faith. The door is open to you.

There are two key verses today that may well be overlooked by preachers.

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’ll call them the 921 factor.

In between is a verse you would have heard before which quotes from Proverbs 25:22

Rom 12:19  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Rom 12:20  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The early church lived under the power of the Roman empire. So in other places the New Testament encourages Christians who are persecuted.

The enemies that Paul refers to are more likely people in individuals lives who did bad things to them.

Paul reminds us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The 921 factor is more interesting. Listen again:

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Have a chat to the person next to you about the ‘evil’ here that Paul speaks of. What it could be that we should hate it and also overcome it with good.

So what do you think? Let’s make a list.

….

This week the things that have bothered me the most that have been really horrible in the news have been family related things.

The pain in families – those 600 plus in this last year – who have lost someone who has ended their own life.

And the children who have been abused. There was a report about that little guy – Moko – who was killed – a coroner’s report saying how terrible it was – worse than the previously worse case of a little girl called Nia.

The source of evil in Scripture is very clearly the Evil one. He seeks – says Jesus – to steal, kill and destroy. Contrast what Jesus comes to do in John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

We need to do everything to help people whose lives are lost or stolen in some way.

How do we hate evil in this context and cling to what is good?  And not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good?

Well we need a lot more time than this sermon slot to talk about that.

To hate the pain and mess that this causes in so many families every year probably means doing something helpful wherever you can to work against the horrible things. It may mean protesting, signing a petition, donating, writing letters to the authorities to get them to improve mental health care. Two brave people spoke on TV he other morning about their own experience of suicide in the family. That took enormous courage.

I must say we are not good at the petition thing. We tried to get people sign a petition about churches being persecuted – the results weren’t fabulous really.

If you know families who have loved ones who struggle with depression and anxiety, and who have kids at school who are going to face bullying which creates huge stress and anxiety (and that’s where the kids are harming themselves – in the face of school or on-line bulling or both) – give those parents support and talk to each other. Get informed. Get involved. And challenge the schools when they don’ get it right.

Family violence also stirs me up – churns away on the inside. There’s a song we’re going to listen to shortly by one of our own ministers – and the closing song about New Zealand is a prayer for this nation eh also wrote.

Am I so invisible 
That my tears can’t catch your eye? 
Am I so unloveable 
No one out there hears my cry 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour…
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy 

Would you greet and welcome me 
If you found me at your door 
Would you pray that I’ll be free 
And find a life that’s so much more 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour… 
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy

credits

released October 2, 2014
Music and lyrics by Malcolm Gordon
Produced by Geoff Duncan

If you think you can do nothing – you’re wrong. You can help overcome evil with good.

It’s not about being indignant. Or saying – “that’s sad”.

It’s about starting with the children in your life. On your doorstep. In the church, here on Sundays. Do you ever talk to them? Your grandchildren and kids – how much time are you really giving to listen and be there with them?

And again – getting informed and equipped as you do when something really matters.

We’re not particularly good with kids really. When we agreed years ago to combine our two morning services into one, one of the reasons was that the adults miss out on seeing the children.

But you know – they are not here for our entertainment. They need relationships with significant adults. That’s what makes messy church such a blessing – because there is time and opportunity to sit with kids and share their lives.

These are big matters. This nation has so much – and people are so desperate.

Prayer remains our best weapon. Come along on Wednesday morning and pray with the group here. And our witness as Christians takes us back to a key verse that I often remind you of: 1Pe_3:15  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

And if you encounter people who need some help and probably can’t afford to pay for counselling, encourage them to get help here where there is no charge. What we can’t do is do nothing.

Let’s close with Malcolm Gordon’s song for this nation. – Beneath the Southern Cross. He writes: “Held and healed, in Christ we find our place”  The song was written to mark 200 years of the Christian Gospel in Aotearoa NZ.

 

lyrics

Beneath the Southern Cross. (By Cate Burton and Malcolm Gordon)

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born 

This whenua 
on which we stand 
This holy ground made by God’s hand
Marred and scarred 
Yet marked by grace 
Held and healed, in Christ we find our place 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

God of nations 
At thy feet In the bonds of love we meet 
Strangers once 
Now called as one 
Aotearoa, wake to greet this love 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest. 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born

credits

released October 22, 2014
Written by Malcolm Gordon and Catherine Williams (nee Burton)
Produced by Matt Chapman

 

 

 

Advertisements

Sunday sermon 6 November 2016 – Reconciled to live for one another

READINGS:  2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Matthew 5:21-24;  Romans 12:9-18

SERMON                                                                    

There’s as great Scripture in Song item from 1977 by a man called Rick Ridings which goes like this:

Verse 1

Little children, Forgive one another, As I have forgiven you;
Cast all your bitterness, In the depths of the sea: Forgive like Me

Verse 2

Little children, Serve one another, As I have served you
Take off the robes of Your rights and your pride; Wash each other’s feet

Verse 3

Little children, Receive one another, As I have received you
Call not unclean, What I have called clean; Come learn of Me

When you look at all the passages in the New Testament which use the phrase “little children” most are Jesus’ words and refer to real little children. You know the ones I mean – like the King James version of “Let the little children come unto me..” which goes like this: Mat 19:14  But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

Ironically too many children actually do suffer at the hands of adults. We know of course, if English is not your first language, that “suffer” in 17C English meant “allow” or “let”.

You may remember that Jesus also used the phrase for the disciples in John 13 – from last week. And then John uses “little children” quite a bit for Christians to whom he writes his first letter.

Even Paul, not known for sentimentality when he writes, as usually he is ticking off the Christians for their sins or heresies, uses the term in Galatians 4. It comes out in the NIV as “Dear children” but other translations have it like this:

4:19  my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

Children of course are not meant to get everything right. They’re always learning.

And I think that’s the secret of real discipleship. Being open to correction. And it is the one thing that makes adults very difficult.

We’re not always teachable.

One of my little sayings is that I want FAT people in church.

Faithful, available, and teachable.

I was reading this week that in on particular country children in their early years of school spend a lot more time working on getting on together than learning things.

Getting on is the main thing. Every drama – family violence – gang rumble – civil war – world war – is about people who stop talking and start shooting – one way or the other.

The bible narrative deals with broken relationships early on.

The first family – soon after the couple fall out with God – have kids that fall out with each other in a very dramatic way. Cain kills Abel as you know.

And God’s mission to people after that is a constant attempt to clean up the mess and get His people on track.

Okay it is a bit radical when he drowns most of them in a flood. (Noah)

And of course he saves key people along the way. Like Joseph who was also done in by his brothers – and ended up prince of Egypt.

They are rescued from famine by going to Egypt. And through Moses they are eventually saved from Slavery and given their own land.

(Look along the wall of the Family Centre and you will see the narrative visually in the collages we’ve done through the year at Messy Church as we’ve worked through the Old Testament.)

And it’s into that land that ultimately Jesus comes.

On Friday at Messy Church we focussed on Isaiah the prophet – who foretells the coming of a wonderful counsellor, mighty God, every lasting Father and PRINCE OF PEACE (Isaiah 9:6).

People who are peacekeepers who don’t keep the peace get fired. There was a big commotion this week over UN peacekeepers from Kenya who failed in their job. Their commander got fired and they are offended and all going home.

But Jesus the mighty warrior is the ultimate peacekeeper and the prince of peace. He sees the project though as He dies for us.

The CROSS is at the centre of this.

One of the important terms for what he does is related to his sacrifice. We talked about it last week – he dies in our place – he is the lamb slain and his blood is sprinkled on the eternal mercy seat of God. You may remember the verse: 1Jn 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Atoning sacrifice is also translated as propitiation.

One of the other terms is REDEMPTION which involves a payment of a ransom. And of course Paul talks a lot about JUSTIFICATION. All these terms in the New Testament try to capture what Jesus has done for us.

It’s RECONCILIATION which is repeated a lot in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. The prince of peace logically brings reconciliation.

It crops up in Ephesians in a peace-making passage too:

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.

 Who are the “two” he has made one? The two out of which he makes one new man? Gentiles and Jews of course. That’s a major peace project. You see it being worked out in the life of Peter who needs a vision from God to get him to go to the house of Cornelius.

This event is picked up in the last line of the song – “little children” – “call not unclean what I have called clean.” Which means the Jewish Christians could mix with Gentile Christians and the two groups could form one new family in Christ.

And then in Colossians the reconciliation is broader – he speaks about all things needing this reconciliation:

Col 1:19  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,  Col 1:20  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col 1:21  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Col 1:22  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Col 1:23  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Reconciliation – made possible through the cross of Christ – is actually the theological foundation of all this “one another” loving, serving and forgiving.

Paul spells it out in our reading from 2 Corinthians 5:

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.

Reconciliation is central to our faith and we need constantly to make peace and restore relationships. You may remember the old saying “love means never having to say you’re sorry”. “Yeah right” – is our response to that.

So here are two practical outcomes of this.

Jesus speaks about reconciliation as well. We read the passage from Matthew.

  1. Before you offer your gift to God (Jesus) – get reconciled

Jesus gives us this angle on reconciliation – sort out your relationships before you come to offer yourself and your gifts to God in worship. The thing that needs to be fixed? The same thing that messed up Cain and Abel’s relationship – and caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (remember they planned to kill him initially). Anger.

So Jesus says:

Mat 5:22  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 

Mat 5:23  “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, Mat 5:24  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

The interesting thing about this verse is who is responsible for fixing the bad relationship – who needs to initiate reconciliation?

Who is it? Yes – the one who is probably wronged – the one who realises that his brother has something against him or her.

If you have any sense of a broken relationship and someone being mad at you or resentful of you – says Jesus – sort it out. It must be asked – why would they be mad at you anyway? Probably because YOU made them mad. 🙂

In other words – it doesn’t matter who started. Fix it. Because you can’t offer true worship to God if you are in a bad relationship with your brother or sister.

John backs this up in his first letter, especially in Chapter 4:19-21:

1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
1Jn 4:21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 

We are to constantly make peace by walking in the light (see 1 John 1:7-10).

And then, secondly – we are to

  1. Keep up the one another focus

We’ve talked about serving, loving and forgiving one another.

All of these are the consequence of reconciliation with God and one another.

There are a host of other “one another” commands in the New Testament.

  • Bear with one another
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another
  • Be devoted to one another
  • Honour one another above yourselves
  • Accept one another
  • Agree with one another
  • Encourage one another
  • Spur one another one towards love and good deeds
  • Do not slander one another
  • Offer hospitality to one another
  • Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another
  • Submit to one another (specifically in marriage)
  • Live in harmony with one another

And of course –

  • confess you sins to one another.
  • Teach and admonish one another.

These last two especially require trust in a  community.

We have to be open to learning a new way of doing things – to be like little children as we trust God and take the risks of opening our lives to one another.

And we have to give time to relationships for any of this to happen!

So I remind you of my invitation a couple of weeks ago.

How do we achieve these things in our Christian community? We talked about them in the context of serving one another. Here they are again:

  • Join a home group – best place for really growing and making friends.
  • Stay for tea and meet some new people. Invite them for coffee through the week.
  • Pitch in to help – share the load. We need everyone rowing on this waka. Offer to help in practical ways. When you’re not on the roster.

Most of all – if you need to make peace and be reconciled with someone – just do it. Again -like little children – we too need to get on together.

Do something about those relationships that need fixing. Otherwise none of this will really matter – or happen.

Amen.

 

Sunday message,14 February 2016 (Lent 1) -Valentine’s Day and faithfulness

READINGS: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

SERMON

God has sent this card to us. It’s much richer than a Valentine’s Day card. It doesn’t say “be my valentine”. It does invite us to a relationship though!

A love relationship.

What kills off a love relationship? (Apart from not working on your relationship as you get older – not dating – not saying you love her – withholding favours – not taking showers – bad financial habits – all that mundane helpful or unhelpful stuff depending where you are here?) Unfaithfulness is sure to kill it off!

Having your heart in other places – whether it be things or people or inappropriate individuals! Idolatry – is to substitute something else for the one you love. If the greatest commandment is about loving God with all your heart, mind, strength – Jesus clearly had to model that too! The trinity is key – God is love and Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fully united and connected in love!

Jesus’ testing – these temptations – (there’s a debate about which word is best) – imagine what it would have done to his Father’s heart had he succumbed to the deception!!

We can’t think like that because we have this superhero view of Jesus – forgetting that he was fully man. These were real temptations.So we should not see them as a cartoon scene – devil with horns and Jesus like Captain America with a shield – or Thor with his hammer! This is real temptation! Nope. I can see you don’t really believe me.

In all the readings today – the tragedy is that people who knew better turned away from God (who was utterly faithful) and whored after other things.

It’s not my language. It’s bible language. Read the prophets. It’s called harlotry if you want a politer sounding word. A best unfaithfulness. In Deuteronomy 26 the people who were given the promised land were told to bring the first fruits of that land as an offering to the Lord.

More than that they were to declare who they were. They were to declare what God had done to rescue them. And together the community were to celebrate the giving of the offering of the first fruits of the land. And the process culminated in this wonderful line:

 Deu 26:9  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 

And the declaration: Deu 26:10  and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me.” Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him.

Deu 26:11  And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the LORD your God has given to you and your household.

The “milk and honey” phrase is not about a perfect utopia. Milk means there were cows or sheep or goats – and that meant grass – and rain – and nurture. Honey meant bees, and flowers, and colour, and germination – and pollination! It’s a great declaration of a beautiful gift which mirrors the whole gift of creation.

How can you declare these things in worship and then walk out ungrateful, behave like a cad, (a rogue or scoundrel if you don’t know what a cad is) and be unfaithful to God by letting the side down?

That’s unfaithfulness. That’s idolatry. That’s succumbing to the temptation to make yourself more important than God and his faithful love.

The four verses from Romans 10 in the lectionary this week might also seem odd.

What are they doing here in Lent?

How do they relate?

Remember where they are in Romans – in the middle of Paul agonising over the Jewish people and their place – and the overall message of Romans that all have sinned.

Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Rom 10:12  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

Rom 10:13  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • We won’t be put to shame if we trust in Him (Jews or Gentiles)
  • He richly blesses all who call on him (Jews or Gentiles)
  • How can you be unfaithful to this God?

And so we come to Luke 4 – the temptations of Jesus.

He has to be a real human being to be tempted like this. In the words of Tom Wright: “There is a sense in this story of a deep wrestling, a heart-searching, a personal struggle with the powerful pull of bodily appetites, ambition and prestige. Most of us know only a little of that struggle, because we tend to give up and give in, early on in the process. Jesus went all the way through the tests and still didn’t break.”

But he made it. Like us, he two depended on God’s grace and strength. It is only Luke who says this: Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert,

He had to get through these tests on the mountain of temptation – so that on that grubby little hill called Golgotha (the place of the scull) he would see it through, knowing that he would be vindicated. How could He be unfaithful to the Father who loved him so? He was the beloved son! The chosen one. The only son. The voices from heaven had reminded him so clearly.

And he did it all for you. And for me. He was victorious here and on the cross – winning the battle for us. Because we don’t last the distance. Thankfully it’s all called Amazing Grace. Amen.

 

 

Sunday Sermon 15 November 2015 – Seeing, Seeking, Speaking…

Readings:  1 Corinthians 13:11 – 1 Corinthians 14:5;    1 Corinthians 14:14-15 & 26; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 4:16-24.

MESSAGE:

“Seeing – Seeking – Speaking”

  • Two weeks ago – body life.
  • Last week – bearing one another’s burdens.
  • Today – Seeing, Seeking, Speaking…

STORY:

A little boy was on a School tour of the local Anglican Church and the vicar was walking the children around the building and explaining the flags, banners, and memorial rolls on the wall. He stopped at the World War 1 and 2 memorial and announced: “these are the names of the people who died in the services.” “Which ones?” asked the boy. “Morning or evening services?

There is little chance of you dying in church, statistically. If I were to die at work, on the other hand, it could be quite spectacular.

Which reminds me of the story of a young visiting preacher who was preaching on the text ‘I am coming soon”. He did not know that the lectern was a bit wobbly and got carried away. The thing toppled over and he landed in the lap of a lady in the front row. “No worries” she declared. “You did warn me”.

You’re unlikely to die in church. There is a chance of being in church where things are quite dead of course.

Some people prefer it that way. The calmer and less disruptive the better. You get churches like that. Very quiet as even the kids are spirited away to a back room in silence.

And then you get churches like ours which sound like a morning market – so much animated conversation. Don’t we get excited when we see our mates!

Real life in worship is about the presence of God.

The Gospel reading today is a short extract from the story we know well – the woman at the well – that’s how well we well know it! 🙂 (Isn’t English interesting?)

I’ve often preached on this story – and many others have too – suggesting that she was there in the middle of the heat of the day to avoid the scrutiny of busy-bodies. Maybe.

We have often suggested that when Jesus gets to the heart of the issue, this unnamed Samaritan woman uses theology as an escape.

You know the story – when it gets personal, discuss theological theories and avoid the truth.

PERHAPS WE ARE WRONG ABOUT HER

It’s possible that she was a good person – who was widowed a lot (okay you may think it a stretch, but I’ve met people who have married often, and sometimes divorced and remarried the same person). David Lose says this when speaking of her:

Jesus at no point invites repentance or, for that matter, speaks of sin at all. She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced. Five times would be heart-breaking, but not impossible.

Further, she could now be living with someone that she was dependent on, or be in what’s called a Levirate marriage (where a childless woman is married to her deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir yet is not always technically considered the brother’s wife). There are any number of ways, in fact, that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.

(Workingpreacher.org)

It may well be that she is a genuine seeker. Listen again: “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.”

Sometimes “seeing” indicates wisdom, or spiritual growth. It’s often linked to belief (“seeing the light”).

At a basic level, people want to “see” Jesus – like the unnamed Greeks in John 12 (See Tuesday’s message).

https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/10-november-2015-tuesday-church-seeking-jesus/

Or the first disciples in John 1:  Andrew brings Simon Peter to Jesus. Jesus calls Philip.

Joh 1:45  Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Joh 1:46  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

SEEING AND SEEKING

Seeking is seeing with one more letter.

When we see Jesus – perhaps just as a prophet or special man (for many today he is still great for his ethics alone – the golden rule for example, in Luke 6:31) – when we are drawn to him – the seeking begins.

Interestingly – it is God who is the seeker at first.

In the discussion that comes up with the Samaritan woman on worship, Jesus says this fascinating thing:

Joh 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

In Genesis 3 after they eat the forbidden fruit, Moses records:

Gen 3:7  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Gen 3:8  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

Gen 3:9  But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

The first game of hide and seek. Fail.

We are told to seek God. A number of well-known verses come to mind:

Deu_4:29  But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

 Isa_55:6  Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 

Hos_10:12  Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

And these two:

Pro_8:17  I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.

Jer_29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Seeing – seeking – coming – as in the invitation to Jesus in Matthew 11:

GOD SEES US – HE SEEKS WORSHIPPERS – HE SPEAKS TO US

God doesn’t need worshippers.  He sees us and knows our need for community and transformation.

He seeks us because he wants us to be connected and found as his “church” – those who are “called out” and “called” together into assembly in His presence.

It is here that He speaks to us.

In the passages we read about worship in the Corinthian and Ephesian churches today – there’s a lot about communication.

JESUS IS THE LIVING WORD OF GOD

It follows that He speaks through His life, his teaching, and through His Holy Spirit.

The gifts of the Spirit are there because God speaks and acts.

Here are some of the key verses again:

1Co 14:1  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

1Co 14:2  For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.

1Co 14:3  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

Eph 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Eph 5:19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,

Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

And the key one:

1Co 14:26  What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Worship is not a weekly recharge like an electric car charging station. It is a place for community encouragement and teaching from the Word. But it also means that what we have been “self-feeding” through the week can be shared to strengthen the church – building up one another – as in previous sermons dated:

25 October  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/sunday-sermon-25-october-2015-monuments-or-footprints/

1 November  https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2015/11/02/sunday-sermon-1-november-2015-as-each-part-does-its-work/  )

Perhaps this helps to show what we can become:

missionalchurch

THIS IS WHO WE SHOULD BE

  1. He sees us – we see Him and the faith journey begins.
  2. He seeks our fellowship/relationship – we seek him
  3. He speaks to us in Christ and through word and spirit – we speak to him in praise and worship and to each other in mutual edification/strengthening.

YOU CAN’T AVOID THE SPEAKING BIT – he is not silent and neither can we be

Prophecy – speaking God’s word to one another. 1Co 14:1  Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

1Co 14:3  But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 

Worship – singing to one another.

Eph 5:19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…

There is always going to be noise! Sound! Notes! words!

Community – building one another up in sharing God’s story in our lives.

1Co 14:26  What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

There is always going to be interaction. Everyone! Lots of action and gifts in action.

Witnessing – the woman in John 4 leaves her bucket and goes off to speak again – this time to others – and about Jesus! There is always going to be a testimony – a story – an account given of “what we have seen and heard”. Like these passages –  

From Luke:  Act 4:18  Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Act 4:19  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. Act 4:20  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

And from John: 1Jn 1:3  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1Jn 1:4  We write this to make our joy complete.

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. 

How about you? Are you seeing, seeking, speaking about what you have seen and heard?

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 October 2015 – Monuments or Footprints

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

Message

Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?

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

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

Some churches end up as monuments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all move on in some way or another.

But we should all move forward.

The living body of Christ is the key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to Timothy Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST

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

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

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

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

That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:

 God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.

Of course the biblical version goes like this:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know it’s me.

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

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sunday sermon 2 August 2015 – Freedom to serve one another in love

Readings: Galatians 5:1; 13 – 26

SERMON

A church secretary spent her vacation at the beach. As she sunned herself, a little boy in his swim suit approached her and politely asked her a series of questions. “Miss, do you believe in God?” The woman was taken aback a little but said she did. Then the little boy asked, “Do you go to church every Sunday?” The woman told the boy that she went to church every Sunday and even worked at the church during the week. The little boy persisted with his interrogation and asked, “Do you read your Bible every day?” The woman told the boy she read her Bible every day. The boy nodded his head, seeming satisfied with her answers and then he said: “It that case, will you hold my dollar for me while I go for a swim?”

That’s a trust issue – isn’t it? How do you really measure the virtues of a stranger? Over the years we’ve often listened to peoples’ stories – loaned them money – and never heard from them again.

What virtues are deemed to be most important in the Christian faith? What are the key signs?

We’re back in Paul’s letter to the Galatians this week. You will remember the background – how other missionary people had gone around the churches in the area trying to persuade them (as Gentiles) to be circumcised and follow the requirements of the first testament or old covenant.

Paul makes it clear that going back to circumcision means going back to the whole old covenant: Gal 5:3  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Being in Christ takes us to a new level:  Paul wants us all in Christ to be one faith family of the new covenant – with no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, or any other differences, as in Galatians 3:25-29:

Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In chapter 5 which is a highlight in the letter, Paul unpacks his ideas of freedom:

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Love creeps in here in these two key passages. (The first we missed in the reading today).

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

Faith – faith in Christ, dying with Christ, and being raised up to new life through the Spirit leads to this sense of belonging to this family by which people know we are Christians by the love shared in the community.

There was a great song in the 70s sung at churches and on church camps, that went like this: We are one in the spirit, we are one in the Lord (x2) and we pray that all unity may one day be restored, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (Ironically the music was taken out of the music book LIVING PRAISE because the owner of the tune had not given permission for it to be published.)

Years ago I preached about this love – quoting William Glasser who said that what our basic need in life is to love and to be loved in a dependable relationship. (Bennie)

To know that you’re loved, that is very freeing. It also constrains us to act. Love constraining – because there is love I help.

I used to teach teenage boys each year about the different kinds of love in Greek and Hebrew – especially that unconditional love of a mother who gets up when children have earache at 2.00am the morning. Or especially when they are sick and there’s heaps of cleaning to do – literally.

A parent would not get their bible out and say – well there’s nothing here in the Bible that says I need to do anything. A parent doesn’t look up the relevant Law from Parliament – to see if you have to get up and help your child. You just do it!

Love constrains us. Listen again to verse 14 to 16:

Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18; Mark 12)

Gal 5:15  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Gal 5:16  So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

It seems that the Galatians were really at odds with each other. Verse 15 hints at even physical conflict. And the default setting from our flesh – translated as “sinful nature” (NIV) – are acts of the flesh:

 Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;

Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions

Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The new covenant’s default setting is not as straight forward – because the flesh/sinful nature manifests in acts that are impulsive, and almost automatic – because they are largely all about us and our hedonistic sinful setting. These are vices.

The virtues are more challenging. Someone put it like this: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

 They are fruits. The trees – that’s us – require serious attention and nurture, and large quantities of love that never counts the cost.

Some kids stories to end today:

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, “What does love mean?” The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore. But then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

“There are two kinds of love. Our love. God’s love. But God makes both kinds of them.”

“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“Love is when someone hurts you. And you get so mad but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

And my favourite one of all: “God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but He didn’t. That’s love.”

The fruits of the spirit:

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Let’s cultivate these shall we.

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 2 March 2014 – Don’t worry be happy

Readings: Isaiah 49;8-16  1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

New International Version – UK (NIVUK) – Matthew 6:24-34

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not worry

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So how are you doing when it comes to getting rid of worry?

In the last two weeks I have asked you about getting rid of anger! There are ways to change your response to situations that make you mad. If you develop the right frame of mind (or mindfulness) where you are not allowing things to get to you – but rather when you step back and reflect on what is happening (being led by the Spirit) – things can be different.

Worry is a tricky one. It’s a word similar to anxiety.

I’m not sure that we should start with worry though!

We need to start with God.

All three readings today are interesting as we look at this theme.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING – a lovely reminder from the OT

Isaiah 49 is a beautiful passage about restoration and comfort.

The word that is repeated three times (vss 10,13 & 15) is compassion.

It reaches a crescendo with these moving  words:

15 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

(your walls are ever before me.)

If you are worry-pot – God is being described as having compassion – “can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Of course we instinctively say “Nooooooo!”.

The prophet is more down to earth:

Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

I love that assurance and it goes on to this most precious statement of God the mother’s brag book:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (v16).

This is not a picture drawn on the hand – it is more like a tattoo cut into the flesh.

So the character of God is the point! Trust Him. Don’t worry.

THE GOSPEL READING – a stronger reminder from the Gospel reading today

The Gospel reading reinforces this of course. These comforting and familiar words:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

We used to sing a song from scripture ( in the day that we only really sang from scripture):

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, his grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (eek a repetition!!)

My God shall provide all my need, according to his riches in glory, he will give his angels charge over thee,

Jehovah Jireh cares for me….

Can you guess the scriptures? (for a pat on the back – no more chocolates during church!)

Php 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Providence! God provides!

Of course the context in Philippians is that they provided Paul’s needs! They were generous in giving. Just a few verses before this he says.

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And then the other verse about the angels?

Psa 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Never mind if you didn’t know that one. It’s about protection.

The key concept is providence!

I love watching sparrows. Any birds. But especially sparrows – because of Jesus’ attention given to them:

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No comments please about the numbered hairs on my head!

The sparrows are provided for. The birds don’t have to shop at Countdown (they would boycott it anyway as they are kiwi sparrows!).

So again:

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it’s not that easy when you’re unemployed or homeless.

The funny old thing is that he calls us who are provided for to provide for those in need!

“Chip off the old block” is an English idiom that applies when God’s children share his compassion and provision!

Or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

So worry and anxiety are not the characteristics that we should be manifesting.

And yet we do! A lot! We frantically scramble for quick solutions to all kinds of things!

The solution is usually in the stockpile we have. We have enough to help those in need – who need not be afraid of asking!

Are you going to have an answer at the judgement? Listen to the words Jesus uses when he describes that judgement:

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

You know how it goes? They say “when Jesus?” And he says – whatever you did not for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me (verse 45).

Sheep and Goats  are separated in this judgement scene. Sheep and goats featured in our children’s song today – ” I just want to be a sheep” which has the line  “I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no”.  (Will the parents every forgive me for teaching them this??)

Out of the nature of God’s providence, we are called to provide for others.

Hospitality and generousity are key qualities of the Christian.

I don’t have to say more about the gospel reading today. Just read it!

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And of course the first verse of the reading – don’t forget the first verse:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Speaks volumes.

Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves the dollar. No way around that one friends!

It’s a funny old thing how he provides even more creatively when you are generous to those in need – and faithful in tithes and offerings.

THE EPISTLE READING – Paul and the Corinthians

It would be easy to overlook the reading from Corinthians. We’ve looked at this book over the past couple of weeks.

How they were divided and partisan – one lot following Paul, the other Apollos. And Paul tells them – the only thing that counts is God causing the growth. And how our work will be judged – the building of our lives. Remember?

Did you read the verses left out last week? Here they are JUST IN CASE you forgot:

1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Good stuff. What’s your life built on?

What’s the quality of your work like – Kingdom of God wise?

Now that’s got you worried.

Don’t worry!

Look at how Paul handles this. It’s just another angle on things. These verses from 1 Corinthians 4 are usually ignored – but they are quite profound:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:2  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1Co 4:3  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

So let’s have a look at these in more detail. There are treasures here. Last’s week’s passage (the end of chapter 3) ended like this:

1Co 3:21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

1Co 3:22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

1Co 3:23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There is this great provision for us in the Kingdom of God – we live in another place in terms of what we value.

Today’s passage goes on in chapter 4:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Who is he talking about? In Matthew 13 we read this –  a good reminder and support of 1 Corinthians 4”1

Mat 13:52  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Ministers – church (apostles in those days, Paul, Apollos and Cephas) are to be regarded not as treasures themselves (that’s how cults begin) but as stewards of God’s word.

Paul elsewhere says to Timothy:

2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

(ESV)  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the treasures – like custodians at a museum – or people discovering who they are on TV – they put on white gloves before handling special things.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

So this is a freeing thing. It fits well with the concept of Provision and not worrying in all kinds of fascinating ways.

He provides His word of truth. We are stewards – especially those ordained to preach and teach. The secret things of God – the mysteries of God – are entrusted to me. And countless others. I take it very seriously.

And by the way the steward is the oikonomos – from which we get economics.Oeconomia – Latin.

Good hey! The real economics is not battling the dollar books but the spiritual books in the kingdom! These are the treasures of truth we are custodians of.

But the word before is more important. We are to be regarded as servants

And this is nice. This is not your average word for servant – diakonos – from which we get deacons. Our Board members biblically are deacons. They serve by ministering in the practical ministries of property and finance, and also care for the poor. Read Acts on deacons.

This isn’t even that well-known word.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ

This word is good!  ὑπηρέτης Huperetes.

Listen to this description:

The word translated “servants” came from the description of a particular Roman slave. On the great galley ships there were slaves whose work was to row the ship. Those slaves who were on the lower bank of oarsmen were called “under-rowers.” They labored only as the master directed. Paul felt that he and the other apostles did only as God directed them as His servants. In a sense, every Christian needs to see himself or herself in this relationship with God, whatever our position in the work.

We – as preachers especially – are accountable to God. Just as we will all give account for any careless word spoken (remember last week from Matthew 12?) – those who teach from God’s word are under scrutiny.

This is the liberating thing for me – when it comes to worry. There’s worry about food, drink and clothes (don’t!). Then there’s the worry of public speaking! And what to preach every week! That’s a lovely challenge.

James understood the responsibility. In chapter 3 he soberly says:

1  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (NRSV).

The liberating thing for Paul (and for me) is that while people get all caught up in their heroes (following Paul, Apollos or Cephas) they – we are only servants.

Under-rowers in a boat. Labouring as the master directs as we sail the kingdom journey together.

The rest of the passage makes sense now. Listen again:

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Don’t judge me – says Paul. I don’t even judge myself! The Lord judges me!

Verse 5 is challenging:

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

That’s a liberating thing!

  • Know God’s character – his motherly compassion and brag book – tattoo on his/her palm
  • What is required is gratitude for his provision!
  • Being like Him in sharing what he gives us! Hospitable and generous people he wants!
  • Acknowledging this provision for all the world! That makes it all a treasure which needs to be looked after (since Adam and Eve who were given dominion over creation). So some need to join Greenpeace! Caring for the world and the environment does matter!
  • Realising that the Kingdom that we seek first is the real treasure (you can’t love two masters!) . The gospel of Jesus is the treasure!
  • Coming to terms with the fact that if Paul – amazing as he was and still is today – was okay with being subject to God’s judgment – so should we! We are His stewards and His servants – the under-rowers. He guides the boat as the captain or pilot.

No good worrying about it. About all these things. We have to trust him for physical and spiritual provision!

And we have the spiritual one anyway: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

And we are stewards of the secret things of God – the mysteries that have in fact been revealed to us as the Church. Paul speaks in Colossians about this:

Col 1:24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Col 1:25  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

Col 1:26  the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col 1:28  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:29  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

This treasure – ultimately – is Christ in us – the hope of Glory!

What amazing provision.

What a great reason not to be a worry-pot.

Amen!

 

Sunday sermon 22 December 2013 (Advent 4) – Joseph, man of God

Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

church

So you’re engaged – and the engagement ends. Do you get to keep the ring?

Depends – I think – on who breaks the engagement. If it’s the guy – then she keeps it. If it’s the girl – she gives the ring back.

Well that was the law I studied when becoming a marriage counsellor.

What do you make of Joseph and Mary’s muddle?

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. (NRSV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: his mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (NIV – one of them anyway)

What was the nature of their arrangement? It seems that the English words don’t capture their status. Were they engaged or married? Was does it mean to be “pledged to be married”.

It was more like a two stage wedding. The first was a contract arranged by the parents – a betrothal- a marriage contract in fact which could only be broken by divorce. The second step happened about a year later when the groom actually took the bride home as his wife – that’s when the feast took place. These two phases have specific Hebrew names which I won’t bore you with. The point is it was different from our set up today. We have other issues – partners galore, common law arrangements- and now legally you can marry anyone. Within a week of the new law on marriage here in NZ there were campaigns for polygamy. The boundaries will get pushed again and again.

Last week we reflected on Mary – her soul and spirit response to God in the face of the predicament she finds herself in.

Today we look at Joseph. He was in a corner – a proverbial tight spot. They were in-between the two phases of marriage – a time when they were not living together and certainly not sleeping together. In the literal sense of the Hebrew language he did not “know” her. Remember the passage in Genesis?

Genesis 4:1 says:  Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain…

Hebrew is quiet a concrete language. The latest NIV generously translates the passage like this:

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain…

I digress of course. The point is – there was clearly none of this intimate “knowledge” between these two. (I hope from now on you will not walk around saying that you know people. Could be misunderstood by those who remember anything of this today!)

So here’s this man in a place of panic mixed with distrust of this girl. If it wasn’t him, then who on earth was it?

Well there’s the solution. No one on earth.

There are debates in theological circles about the word “virgin” and whether in the New Testament the word translated simply means “young girl”.

The bible text is quite direct here. Listen again to the NIV version in the pew:

Mat 1:18  This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

Mat 1:19  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.Jospeh dream

Mat 1:20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. There it is.

I love the response of this righteous man. He did not want to expose her to public disgrace – because this would be a breaking of the serious code of marriage really! It implies adultery – forbidden by one of the big ten. (Can you remember which one? Between ‘don’t murder” and “don’t steal” is the 7th commandment – ‘don’t commit adultery”.)

But Joseph gets a text – an email –  a facebook message? Nope – just a dream – an angel appearing saying to him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

And of course it gets better:

Mat 1:21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew reminds his listeners about the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 which we also heard today. Makes sense – Matthew’s gospel was written for a Jewish readership or audience.

I love Joseph’s openness to being led by God.

We need more Josephs today – open to the Lord’s leading.

And his obedience is fairly efficient:

Mat 1:24  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

Mat 1:25  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

We need to pray for the men of this nation – and this community too – that they hear God speak into their lives.

We are especially grateful for this man – who taught Jesus the skills as a carpenter – and would have shaped his life.saint-joseph-miguel-de-angel

I’m sure that Jesus was like Joseph – just like he sounds like Mary in the beautitudes.

Men of God. Listen to His voice.

Amen.

Sunday March 10 – Prodigal sons

READING: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

SERMON REFLECTION

So what do you feel when you hear this story?  Who do you relate to? Which character? I was thinking – I’m a man who has two sons. Hmm.

Take a moment to become one of the characters. What you would say if you were them? How would you tell the story from their point of view?

So what did you think?

The father – many could relate to him. How challenging parenting is and how different our children turn out to be.

The younger son – I guess many could relate to him too. We have many in our churches who have come home to the Father (God) – some after years of being away. Many who wasted their resources and opportunities. Remember that the word “prodigal” which we use to describe this parable means one who wastes and squandours their wealth and resources!

The older brother – there are plenty older brothers who can easily be resentful.

And there are other points of view in the story – think of the mother (perhaps saying to her husband: “I told you it wasn’t a good idea!”).

Or the servants in the household wondering how this could be.

Think of the neighbours – the local rabbi if there was one – family friends and of course the lawyers of the day who were guardians of the way estates were handled and retirement planned!

MY REACTION TODAY

As a father – I understand completely. As a counsellor and as a pastor – I see so many fascinating dynamics in families. There are so many interesting possibilities. This story resonates with many of our experiences does it not?

There are two issues I want to consider however – to stretch your thinking:

1.    Repentance

I would suggest that the younger brother didn’t repent when he was in the pig pen. Yes he was in a serious mess. People sometimes say that he did repent – but I think it’s more basic than that. Listen again:

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!

They all come home when they’re hungry. I’m speaking of children of all ages.

And as an aside people come to church for all kinds of reasons too – they walk in here and discover while looking for a meal – a practical solution – support in their new language – songs for their children to learn at mainly music – skills for their boys to develop at ICONZ – while looking for these things they find the extravagant grace and love of God!

And by the way that begins in us – our being extravagantly gracious and generous!

This prodigal was driven by a famine! By circumstances! By his stomach! And he had some bridges to mend! The road to repentance begins here – but its not the whole explanation for what was happening.

What follows is a rehearsed speech – kids do this all the time – when they’ve crashed the car or messed up in some way. Here’s verse 18 again:

 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: And then there’s the speech. He would have had lots of time to practice it on the road: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’

Yes the speech includes “I have sinned against heaven and against you”. So people do argue that he repented. And following what I said last week – there is a change of direction and a change in mind here!

In the context of the other parables – remember the lost sheep and the lost coin before this parable in Luke 15? The shepherd found the lost sheep. Someone has noted that the lost sheep did not repent either!

In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And God – way back in Genesis – went LOOKING for Adam who had become the first prodigal!

Luther said that repentance follows forgiveness. In fact the first of his 95 theses that he nailed to the wall so to speak and got the Reformation going reads like this:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

The story of the prodigal son is a story if anything about forgiveness.

I mean the father didn’t even let the younger son finish his speech. And he didn’t do what dad’s do today: bread and water and to your bedroom! We’ll talk about this tomorrow!

He threw an amazing party! They celebrated with the very best! That’s an act of forgiveness. Welcoming him home is an act of forgiveness.

When you realise how generous God is, you repent! When you understand grace and the power of His love – you repent. The woman Jesus stopped from being stoned in John 8:11 would have repented when Jesus said – neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.

Christians who have walked the path a long time are more aware of their sins further down the track. And they repent. Pascal wrote this on the subject: “God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.” Blaise Pascal

And the fruit of repentance – the evidence of that repentance – for the prodigal son –  would have been seen in the sequel or next story– “The kindness of the prodigal son to his grumpy bitter brother” and then perhaps in the next movie or newspaper article:  “prodigal son puts in amazing hours on dad’s farm” followed by ” Prodigal’s lamb production puts large pig farm out of business”.

Forgiveness and grace – unmerited favour shown in love and kindness – lead us to full repentance as we realise how unworthy we are and that comes from the celebration of our return to God as well! Remember that in the previous parable where the shepherd find the lost sheep and brings them back, Jesus has this to say:  I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.(Luke 15:7)

2.  The other voice in the story.

There is another voice in the story. A second silent narrator if you like – perhaps outside of the story but commenting anyway.

It’s the voice of the accountant/retirement advisor.

It’s the voice of the one who looks at the Father’s high risk behaviour – foolishness – in giving the brother his inheritance in the face of the insult that he presents in the original request. After all, to ask for you money from dad before he dies is as good as saying he is dead. The dad takes the insult on the chin. And he gives the wealth away to his son who ends up squandering it – wasting it – spending it.

How similar that is to the very first story in the Bible that involves two brothers – yes the story of the parents of Cain and Abel. God in His grace gives their parents the right to name the animals and the responsibility to rule and care for the world on His behalf. They too are prodigal – wasting opportunity and resources as they turn to their own devices!

The voice of the account-cum- retirement advisor screams out – I told you so! You should not have done that! It was a bad idea.

But this Father is not into keeping up with the social standards of the day. His love is too extravagant.

He’s the dad that runs down the road! Bad bad bad! No self respecting dad would have done that in those days!

He’s the dad that kills the fatted calf! There’s no discussion about how the prodigal was to pay anything back. No restorative justice here.

One commentator, David Lose writes: Jesus paints a picture of this world in his story of a foolish son and even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Counters won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years….” “You never….” “This son of yours…”.

Yes the older brother is the spokesperson for the ones who want it to balance on paper – who want it to be fair.

David Lose also writes about this “other country” that the story describes like this: What I’m thinking of really is another country, another land, one that feels, smells, even tastes different. You know right when you’ve stumbled into it, even if you didn’t notice the boundary lines.

What makes this country different is that nobody counts things here. Do you know what I mean?  No tracking billable hours, no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debits on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?”

Best yet, no counting old grievances and grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. For some reason, people in this country have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.

This is the Kingdom of God! The country of God, if you like.

This is Grace land – literally.

This is our place – God took a risk with the human race by putting us in charge here. And we too waste and squander. And he celebrates when we come home too!

So we too can fill in the blanks when we come back to our heavenly father: you can write your name in the spaces below:

______ was dead and is alive again;  _______  was lost and is found.

It’s never too late! He too waits for us to come home!

Amen! May it be so for you today.