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11 June 2017 message – What we do in the name of the Trinity…

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28: Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ Brunner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

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. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

 

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Sunday sermon, 3 July 2016 – finding children of peace

Reading: Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

Sermon notes:

I visited a dear brother in his early 90s this week. He told me that his grand daughter is going to Southern Africa as a missionary. We had a good laugh together – he thought it funny that she was going there when I had come here to New Zealand as a pastor from South Africa. The question we discussed was simple – can there ever be too many missionaries? God calls and sends people in all directions – and the message is received. Seeds are sown and people come to faith. It should be the norm, but sadly many people struggle to share their faith, or hope that others will do it for them. Here are some points from this passage today.

KEY THINGS IN THIS PASSAGE TODAY

1. Ministry is not limited to the 12. Who are these 70 or 72? They were ordinary people with a Mission. It’s not limited to professionals either today.

Luk 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.

2. The agricultural image of the harvest lines up with other passages – for example Luke 8:10-15 the sowing of the seed which is the Word of God (vs.11)

Luk 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

We are not to coerce people into the job of labourers for this mission. Pray for the Lord of the harvest to raise them up! It is His mission.

3. The Lord of the harvest then sends them out – this is not about PR or marketing – this is a divinely appointed task to share the Word and plant the seed. Have a look at the next verses:

Luk 10:3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Luk 10:4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

They are to travel light, not weighed down by stuff (the church is often weighed down by stuff not central to its mission. For example, I spend a lot of time sorting out things that are not part of my calling). All of us spend a lot of time on non-essentials that don’t really build the kingdom of God.

Not greeting people is not being rude – it’s about not being side-tracked again by non-essential gossip and idle chit chat. It has been suggested that a formal cultural greeting in those days could take a couple of hours. You see this in other cultures – like traditional greetings or votes of thanks at Presbytery meetings to those who do the catering – in some cultures they are very long speeches indeed. (How do we allocate our words?? Word economy is an interesting idea.)

Luk 10:5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’
Luk 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.

4. “Peace be with you” is like saying God be with you. At our recent citizenship ceremony, the Kaumata’s karakia – his prayer of blessing – began with “Peace be upon this gathering”).

Luke 10:6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you  –  this is key – our mission is to be to and with people who are people of peace – they are open to you and you invest in a relationship with them. Logically – you can’t build with those who don’t seek peace. They are certainly not open to the prince of peace or the Gospel.

If you don’t receive peace back – move on. You’ve got urgent business and only so much time, – don’t waste it with people who are not people of peace. In our lives we have only so many hours in the day and the week for relationships. Missional church people make this their main focus – on the people who are children of peace – who are more likely to open their homes to you.

5. In verses 7 and 8 we read this: Luk 10:7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
Luk 10:8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.

Hospitality is inverted – the 72 are to receive hospitality. If you have to shake the dust off your feet it means that they haven’t done the job of hospitality – which included washing your feet. Otherwise there would be no dust!

Jesus tells them to stay in homes that welcome them (people of peace obviously). Hospitality is important in Mission. A number of key things happen in homes – look at Acts 10 and 11 Peter and Cornelius, Paul in Ananias’ house in Acts 9 – Lydia in Acts 16 – salvation involves belonging – giving of oneself and receiving of another – becoming part of a covenant community where people eat together – and when you eat with people you usually talk and share your lives more.

We are to go out and be guests to their hospitality, which is not easy for some whose kids embarrass them in peoples’ homes, who won’t eat their food and so on. Parents pray the kids will be okay and polite!

6. Luk 10:9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
Like last week’s discussion, the key message is the Kingdom, and healing is a normal part of it. Logically enough – God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven means wholeness, healing, restoration, and a new way of living, and a new community.

Not everyone will accept this:
Luk 10:10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say,
Luk 10:11 “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’

7. The last passage is a warning that you should not worry about feeling rejected when sharing the gospel of God. It’s God they are rejecting. Listen again: Luk 10:16 “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

8. The real battle is spiritual. That’s why we have to guard our unity. Listen again:
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.

9. And of course don’t be to excited when you are successful: Listen to Jesus again: Luk 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

I don’t think we are in great danger of getting over excited. But pride is a dangerous thing when we overrate ourselves. The real victory is Jesus over Satan – the cross remains the central place of power and success – paradoxically because it felt like a defeat.

So what about us?

The Missional church movement reminds us of the biblical mandate for Mission. God has a mission. God’s mission has a church.

The Matthew 28 great commission is “Go in to all the world” not “bring the world into the church building to hear the message”.

Perhaps that’s why Messy Church works.

  • It’s not in a church.
  • It is around food.
  • It focusses on doing things together where there are conversations in which we get to know people and are included in their lives.

And still – there is a message – there is prayer – truth is presented which is the seed sown in the lives of the folk that come along.

It’s not just a time to keep kids busy.

Hospitality is shared, – given and received.

You could come along too.

And tomorrow you will be out there – the extension of the mission of the 72 – God’s mission has a church – and that’s you.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 1 March 2015 – The upside down Kingdom…

Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon

It’s no surprise that the parable today is in direct response to our main character through the story. I wonder who that could be, you may be thinking. Why Peter, of course.

In the previous chapter is that challenging saying about the young man who turned away. The rich young ruler. Remember him? Listen again: Mat 19:23  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mat 19:25  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Mat 19:26  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

The bit at the end of Matthew 19 is for you to read at home. Especially verse 28 – I bet you’re surprised by that one.

At the end of Matthew 19 Jesus says to Peter:  Mat 19:29  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Mat 19:30  But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

And then Chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Remember that there were no chapters at the beginning when the bible was written. Not even spaces between the letters of the early bible. So here we go then:

Mat 20:1  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.

It’s addressed to people who have left everything to follow Jesus, and applies to every generation. Things are upside down in terms of this Kingdom. This is a unique parable about the Kingdom and God’s grace in the kingdom. It ends again with Mat 20:16  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So let’s consider firstly what’s the parable is not about!

  • It’s not about trade unions and fair wages. Elsewhere in scripture it’s very clear that workers are to be paid properly.
  • It’s not about lazy people. There’s a temptation by those who have never been without anything, especially a job, to look at those standing around doing nothing and say “lazy bunch – why don’t they get a job?”

I don’t know if you’ve lived anywhere where people stand around near a work and income/person power or labour office hoping that someone will hire them for the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s terribly discouraging. It’s common in big cities.

Looking after workers and the needy is part of the biblical standard given to us. If you want a biblical reference for this read Leviticus 19:

Lev 19:9  “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Lev 19:10  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:11  “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. Lev 19:12  “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Lev 19:13  “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

And of course Deuteronomy:  Deu 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deu 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. 

SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Verse 15 gives us a clue: Mat 20:15  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

If the Landowner in the extended simile is God – then he is both generous and sovereign.

And it’s the labourers who were hired at the beginning of the day that the landowner has issues with. Or the ones that had issues with the Landowner.

And this verse 15 is a fascinating one – which actually says this: (BBE)  Have I not the right to do as seems good to me in my house? or is your eye evil, because I am good? 

The idea of a bad or evil eye takes us back to Matthew 6. Mat 6:22  “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.Mat 6:23  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

And of course in this passage the concept of the evil eye is translated  with words like “jealous” or “envious”. And jealousy and envy are aspects or manifestations of the breaking of the last commandment – do not covet. It’s all about what and how you see things. And what we want for ourselves.

A comment in the Life Application Study Bible says this: Spiritual vision is our capacity to see clearly what God wants us to do and to see the world from his point of view. But this spiritual insight can be easily clouded. Self-serving desires, interests, and goals block that vision. Serving God is the best way to restore it. A “good” eye is one that is fixed on God.

It’s about how you see things and how you judge them. About whether you have an eye for the things of the Kingdom or whether your shades have dollar signs on them – or “me, me, me” as a filter – whether you think of your own reward first like Peter. It puts his complaint in context:

Mat 19:27  Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

His complaint does rather sound like a whining petulant child now. It has this “unfair” kind of feeling implied. Like the people hired at the beginning of the day for a fair wage who are resentful of the Johnny-come-lately people whom the Landowner gets in at the last minute – and pays the same rate for the day.

The Landowner is totally fair and keeps his agreed deal with the workers who worked all day. What they don’t get is how the 11.00th hour people also get that same wage.

This is grace revealed. Generous grace. It’s about the character of the Landowner, who represents God in the parable.

SOME SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXAMPLES MIGHT HELP:

  • Like the penitent thief on the cross. No baptism – no catechism – no chance to serve in endless duties at church. Just grace.

Can you think of others?

  • Perhaps the elder brother in the Prodigal Son story comes to mind – whining that his dad was throwing a party for the prodigal who was so selfish and who squandered everything. One commentator reflecting on this says the words of the elder brother might be like this: There are the sounds of a party in progress. “My brother is receiving a celebration? What is going on here? This is certainly not fair.” Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 4518-4519). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

SO WHAT ABOUT US

In every church (certainly in the 6 or more I have served in over the years), you get the workers who have served there for many years, some of whom believe they are entitled to more reward because of years of service. A meritorious kind of status.

The Kingdom of God is not like that. There is no ladder of importance really – we all are recipients of gifts from God. But the moment we treat the church as our club, then there will be a pecking order of some sort.

So is this about the church today? In fact Tom Wright’s thoughts are helpful – he writes with church people in mind – doing church stuff:

God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.

There is always a danger that we get cross with God over this. People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace. The earliest church clearly needed to learn that lesson. Is there anywhere in today’s church that doesn’t need to be reminded of it as well?  Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 57-58). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amazing and generous grace is revealed in the character who portrays the nature of God.

Do you know this God? May you come to discover his amazing grace.

And like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to look for the lost sheep, the Landowner (God) is out in the marketplace seeking those in need and inviting them to participate in a different vineyard in his upside down Kingdom.

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon 29 June – Even A Cup of Cold Water

Even A Cup of Cold Water

(Preacher ― Bill Davey, Elder ― Information sourced from the websites: “Meditation for Christians” and “Association of Hebrew Catholics in New Zealand”)

Matthew 10:37-42

New International Version (NIV)

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Introduction

In this message I hope we can capture something of the teaching style of our Lord, as He prepared His disciples for mission and ministry.
To his disciples Jesus was a rabbi who taught in a Jewish context and one who expected his disciples to grapple and wrestle with the ideas He presented to them.
His study methods also included the disciplines of reflection and meditation ― All are part of their (and our) Jewish heritage and inheritance (Our patrimony).
First: We will review the Lord’s straight talk about relationships and then the likely rewards of faithful service.
Secondly: I accept that we might well struggle to understand some of the teaching of Jesus, until we have had the chance to ponder the issues further.
Thirdly: I hope we will discover something of the profound ideas Jesus has expressed within these Scriptures:
• He who receives you receives me ….. me receives the one who sent me!

• Receiving even a cup of cold water can be a ministry!

“Even A Cup of Cold Water”

St. Matthew 10: 37 ― 42 New International Version
We are in rabbinic school, and this is how Jesus, our tutor presents His doctrine. He does not open with words such as:
“Gentlemen, today we will consider aspects of natural and supernatural life.”
In the tradition of the culture, He opens with a stunning quandary — and, yes, the disciples would have shrunk back, just as we might.
Now let us review inclusive language of A/v 1 and 3 — “Anyone”, ” Whoever” and “He who” ―
Now return to A/v 1
Now, in three verses, Jesus makes three points in an ascending order of hardship to emphasise the phrase, “for my sake”.
A/v 1
37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Now, in three verses, Jesus makes three points in descending sequence of reward.
A/v 3
40 “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.
41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.
42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
These six verses of Scripture really belong together ― They cause me to examine my commitment and motives before the Lord, both within the context of my own family, and also within the wider family of the Household of God.

They have application for all Christians and I suspect Jesus uses them as basic training for all of His disciples. They appear to be standards for every disciple who wants a truly close relationship with Jesus Christ, the Lord.

In addition, in the second cluster of verses, please note use of the words: “I tell you the truth.” (Verily, verily I say unto you” or “Truly, truly I tell you.” ― these are matters of great moment.)
However the consoling, underlying message is that anyone can qualify — it is a matter of personal choice. There are no exclusions! The love of God can therefore be spread to the utmost end of the earth by those whom He uses.
Verses 37 ― 39 ― Relate to the motives of the believer
A/v 2
First: Jesus requires His disciples to love their parents and family no less than totally, but they are to love Him even more. He is here calling them into a very special relationship, which they must be entirely free to enter into. Love for Him will not diminish legitimate God-given love for family.
Secondly: The follower must be ready to share in the fate of Jesus, to be persecuted and to die. This is the first mention (in this Gospel) of crucifixion. Only by coming to terms with this very real possibility of cruel and torturous execution, could the disciple be free to proclaim the message of Jesus.
Thirdly: The follower will spend the rest of his life exploring and implementing the strange paradox of gaining and losing life.
Verses 40 ― 42 ― Challenges on the Mission Field
A/v 4
First: Those who receive the Messiah’s representatives, the Disciples, (and then those whom they subsequently appoint and authorise), receive Him, and with Him, His Father. They receive God! Their commission is thus a very solemn one — and is addressed equally to us.
Secondly: Those who receive the Apostles because they recognise them to be prophets (the word here means teachers), righteous men and disciples of the Lord, will receive the same reward as did they, namely eternal life.
Thirdly: Even those who help the disciples down through the ages on their mission, by offering only a cup of cold water (the smallest possible action) as they journey, will be rewarded. All are thus joined, in some way, to the outreach of the Lord, not actually because they merited it ― but because the Lord chooses to respond in graciousness.

A thought for Reflection
When, as followers of Jesus, we make this commitment to Him, the most amazing blessings follow. We become not just members of the Household of God; we also become bearers of Him to any who will receive us — We are empowered to help lead home the lost sheep of this world by simply receiving any kindness — let alone giving any — We are to be praying in our hearts, a blessing upon the people we meet.
Can we imagine a higher status than to be a God-bearer?

Summary
These readings represent a formal rabbinic “lesson plan” for the disciples, easily committed to memory, and providing a treasury of our Lord’s deepest thoughts.
We are left challenged by the question: “Can we really believe each of the points He makes?”
We have to question of ourselves — that is part of the purpose of the passage.
This Messiah certainly gives some very focused attention ― to be sure we understand Him!

Briefly Put
Our Rabbi Yeshua asks us to follow in His footsteps, and promises
that if we do so, He will walk in ours, with us, to the farthest ends of the earth.

Sunday 15 June 2014 – What we do in the name of Trinity

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ runner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

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. But do this with gentleness and respect,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

Easter reflection – the Jesus we present

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

 Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Joh 20:26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching (using their minds) but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!

  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  1. Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.

 Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard:

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

  1. Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

 So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

 Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

 I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peaceinto our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

 We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

 I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit.

 So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others.

There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

 “Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

 If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

 Hide me now

Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

 The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works (Someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  • IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

 What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

 Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

 And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

 What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

 So that I can be free!

 When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

 When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

 Joh 20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

(Republished from 15 April 2012)

Sunday sermon 3 February 2013 – Cliffs and crosses

Sermon

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

1 Corinthians 13

13 If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:

21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Message

It would be easy today to talk about love. That ‘nice’ type of reflection that you often hear at weddings about love – being patient and kind. It’s the soft reflective route and the outcome can be a warm fuzzy feeling. The truth is that soon after a wedding the gloves are off as people try to resolve their differences of opinion.

It is a strange combination – this passage on love and the gospel reading where the people of Jesus’ own home town try to murder him by throwing him off a cliff.

The bigger picture is a massive battle – which is reflected in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.

It’s a battle for truth.

Last week you would have heard the first part of the reading from Luke 4 – Jesus explaining that the prophetic word from Isaiah referred to him.

The story continues today as Jesus declares: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

They love it! Verse 22 tells us “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.”

After the people rave – why doesn’t he just take the complements and move on! No. He has to get stuck into them.  He has to bring truth out into the open. Listen to his sermon:

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

In short – you are not the most important people in the world. Even in Elijah’s and Elisha’s  time God reached those outside of the family! Outside of Israel! In that time he touched the lives of Gentiles! Those outside the family of God. That did not go down well!

Luke continues:

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Humanity’s self-righteousness perfectly displayed. And before any of the encounters of faith, the healings, the miracles and all his teachings still to come, Jesus was on the road to the cross.

The gloves were off. Satan tried to derail him from the beginning. And when he resisted the temptations thrown his way, Satan used religious people to try to kill him. Nothing subtle there.

I came back to work on Wednesday after some leave where I stepped out of the rush.

Let me tell you something about the ministry – it’s like a battle field. In fact the battles I face are on-going. In the depths of my toughest moments I am really just being a follower of Jesus. The moment you take him and his message seriously, your own sin and failure looms to the fore. And of course Satan – the accuser – uses people to tell you that you are hopeless and useless. If Satan is at work in the world – he is surely the father of lies (John 8:44) who through adults who should know better and through bullies of all ages tells children especially that they will never amount to anything. Lucky for me as an adult I don’t have to be shaped by what people say about me.

Before I make a claim to be a preacher and a pastor, with all the risks that involves, I am first and foremost just a a follower of Jesus. I’m on the road to the cross.

Are you really a follower of Jesus? The road to the cross is the only one. Jesus was on that road from his baptism – through the temptations in the wilderness, through the attempt to get rid of him by his own people at Nazareth, through every encounter of opposition and every demonic manifestation – every trick questions and the lies that people told about him at his trial – Jesus was always on the road to the cross.

And we are no different. When speak the truth people don’t particularly like it. And truth leads to all kinds of interesting reactions. If they try to throw Jesus – their own boy – off a cliff, anything is possible. There will always be risk and opposition.

Jesus had a temporary victory but they would try again. From a human point of view it was always going to end in disaster on Calvary. But Jesus – still empowered by the Holy Spirit – stands firm. Well it says this: 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

THE TRUTH TODAY ABOUT THE HEART OF GOD FOR THE LOST

People still don’t like the truth today. We all justify ourselves – defend themselves. We argue about things that challenge our presuppositions.

This truth today – that God is still more interested in people out there than us – is offensive to many! If it’s not true – why did Jesus say this:

Luk 15:4  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

Luk 15:5  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

Luk 15:6  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

Luk 15:7  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Yes you heard it. More rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than the 99 of us today.

Of course it may well be that some of us need to repent too! But you know what I mean! Luke records the words of Jesus elsewhere:

Luk_19:10  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Our mission this year involves this concern – this passion – to find a way to reach out into this community.

There will always be those who say that we need to look after our own first. That’s pastoral care and it’s a very significant part of our work.

Our home groups are part of that strategy – and our pastoral concerns team works really hard to care for many people.

If love does anything – it will drive us to face the truth – and continue the work of Jesus. God’s love that we receive is here to share and give away.

We will not reach the whole world. We won’t reach the whole community.

But we will endeavour to find out where God wants us to work and do that as part of our Mission. That is God’s heart – for those who need His love who are not here in the church.

In the meantime – we too need the full power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from being derailed – or thrown off our own particular cliffs!

It is the Holy Spirit who touches our hearts to give us God’s heart – a heart for those who are like lost sheep today.

It is the Holy Spirit who brings us to that point where we count everything else as loss – where we die to self – where we walk this walk to the cross ourselves. In the words of the song we will close with:

Everything I once held dear, I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross, where your Love poured out, bring me to my knees, Lord I lay me down, Rid me of myself, I belong to you, Oh lead me, lead me to the cross.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 6 May – Plugged into Jesus

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40 and John 15:1-8

MESSAGE

I was never good at Maths! But I have come to understand the ideas of Paul Hiebert about sets – in relation to people and organisations! There are two kinds of sets – he suggests. Bounded sets – and centred sets.  He wrote about this about 30 years ago! A bounded set is a group – an organisation that we belong to – because we’ve recognised that you have to cross some kind of line to get there. For example – if you join a club, you agree up front on the rules and expectations, including dress code and fees. Churches have traditionally been like this – you had to apply to be a member and read the expectations first (helpful) and then agree to abide by them.

I recently encountered a local church that has as a requirement of membership that you attend church twice on Sundays. By joining you agreed to that. No exceptions. And in the organisation all pastors have to offer two services every week. All churches have minimum expectations for members like this – and the basic one is Baptism which should come with a public profession of faith. And with this comes certain responsibilities and privileges.

A great example in Bible history of a bounded set is found in the reading from Acts today. The travelling treasurer – a eunuch from Ethiopia who went to Jerusalem – encounters Philip the evangelist on the road. This man had come to worship! (v27). It is not surprizing that an Ethiopian should do that. There had been Jews in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon. (Isaiah 11:11 and 56:4-5 refer to Ethiopia and to eunuchs by the way).

The Jewish organisation of the day was a bounded set – as was seen in the structure of the temple – which had a series of areas that people were not allowed into.  This temple had been developed by Herod the Great over 40 years – and was like a wonder of the ancient world! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean region and Asia to see it. It was like the Taj Mahal today – or Christchurch’s cathedral when it was standing. People marvelled at it.

But only Jews really belonged and had access. And the requirement for being a Jew (circumcision) was a serious business – plus adherence to many laws!

If you were a traveller and not Jewish you could get into the outer court (of the Gentiles). But no further.  Odd really because when you read the Old Testament it was clear that what they had was to be for all the nations! The God they worshiped was the God of all the earth. Listen to Psalm 22 which is one of the readings for today: 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

So when this Eunuch comes in Acts 8 – all the way from African Ethiopia – a long way in his chariot – he would have had limited access. In fact Deuteronomy 23:1 specifically excluded men like him: No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.

Others also had restrictions – look for example at the court of the women. Ritually pure Jewish women of course were allowed. There were specific exclusions for those who had menstruated or had had sexual intercourse and so forth.

Then there was the Court of Israel. The men only – and again ritually pure men! There are similar things that would have excluded men.

The real temple area – the Sanctuary – was for ritually pure priests and Levites. Nice music, prayer and sweet smelling incense for them only.

And then there was this enormous curtain at the rear of the Sanctuary where you found the Holy of Holies! The high priest went in there once a year on Yom Kippur – and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat in the pre-Babylonian exile days. After the destruction of the first temple that space was empty.

Now do you remember what Jesus did – we looked at this before Easter? He went in there and messed up their tables in the courts of the temple. He would have been zealous for the temple because of its intended purpose – as a house of prayer! They had turned it into something else.

Jesus not only cleansed the temple – he broke ALL those rules all the time about sin and ritual purification. He was not keen on their bounded and exclusive set!

He also  totally redrew this map of access to God!! He talked to and touched Gentiles – lepers – and bad people. And all kinds of ritually unclean people touched him!

Jesus connected with all kinds of people who were exluded from the temple. – people like the Ethiopian who would have wanted to worship but could not really have full access.

How exciting therefore when Jesus says: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret!” That’s radical and revolutionary stuff! There are no exclusions here at all. The holy place is redefined!

So back to Acts 8:

And when Philip starts talking to this man on his chariot – a physically deformed eunuch who had travelled SO FAR to just get to the outer court – this encounter is DYNAMIC! The eunuch is reading His Old Testament Bible out loud – which was common in those days  (in Greek)– and needs someone to explain the words of Isaiah! Philip asks him a question – and the man invites him into his chariot!

There is something very moving about the conversation – because of the passage itself. There are two possible applications to the eunuch:    “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

This man had been physically cut – castrated. Not by choice. Like a sheep to be slaughtered. And – “in his humiliation he was deprived of justice”. Being a castrated male was an in-between state and not a great position socially. Deprived of justice – I think so. And so the man asks: “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

In other words –“ could this apply to me?” A conversation follows and a conversion! And he gets baptised! Brilliant! The line that I love is this one: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (NRSV v 37)

I am sure there were lots of things that prevented him from progressing in his Jewish faith. And there would be churches today who would make it difficult for people to get to that point too! But not on this day! And he goes on his way rejoicing – which implies he had a story to tell.

How startling and radical has the Easter story not been? What happens when Jesus dies? That heavy duty curtain shutting us out of their view of the presence of God – that last barrier – is ripped! Yay and Hallelujah!

THE CHALLENGE

Here’s a thought. Are we not a bit like this too? We want people who show up to conform at least to our brand of thinking or worship!! Mandatory things from OUR POINT OF VIEW.

The BOUNDED SET is a very exclusive kind of thing.

CONTRAST THAT WITH A CENTRED SET.

A centred set is a bit different. This kind of organisation invites people to journey towards a common goal or set of values. It is not a closed group but more like a loose association of people moving in the same direction.

For Christians – the centre is not a belief or a tradition but a PERSON! The first Christians were called people of THE WAY!

I am beginning to wonder whether we should even use the word Christian at all! Follower of Christ – yes! Disciple of Jesus – yes! Jesus-follower – Oh Yes!

The set of the Christian faith is centred in JESUS.We look to him for life. For forgiveness. For healing and reconciliation (remember last week?). Even the buildings are meant to help people find Jesus! And yes we have a mission statement that says we are to “build loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”. The focal point is Jesus! The building we meet in here is just a tool!

Go to some churches – and horror of horrors they are like that Jewish Temple! They have altars and altar rails – and while I enjoyed receiving communion at them when I was a temporary Anglican – they are expressions of bounded sets again.

The first Christians BROKE DOWN BARRIERS of all sorts. Listen to Galatians 3:28 – probably one of the most significant verses in the New Testament: Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. One IN CHRIST JESUS!

And so when we come to the GOSPEL reading today – it seems to make more sense!    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Remain – abide – live in relationship with, connected to Jesus the vine – the true vine – through whom life pumps into us! Apart from me you can do nothing!

Being connected to Jesus – together – is the only way to do this! And our job is to get people moving in the right direction towards that centre! And it’s not necessarily organised! A vine is not very systematic or tidy. But the branches are plugged into the vine! The branches are centred in Jesus! And outside of that it’s pretty dead!

WHAT EXCITING MISSION OPPORTUNITIES EXIST FOR US TODAY

Like Philip – if you are led by the Holy Spirit – you might bump into someone with whom you can have the conversation that changes lives! Once they are connected – the life flows. It points to a relationship with Jesus as key!

A final comment: An Australian said this (amazing wisdom!) – There are two main methods for keeping cattle on the ranch. One is to build a fence around the perimeter. The other is to dig a well in the centre of the property.

To quote John Ortberg (Is the question for Christians “Out or In?” or “Farther or Closer?”) – If we focus on Jesus as the centre, then the key question becomes whether someone is oriented toward him or away from him. We realize that God is in a much better position than we are to know who’s in and who’s out. We also realize that everyone has something to learn, that everyone has a next step to take, and we don’t have to make ourselves seem more different than we really are. We embrace our common humanity.

We need to get people moving towards Jesus!

Phillip did that with a man from Ethiopia whose name we don’t even know! But the results were first class! A great outcome! A man connected to Jesus! Plugged into the vine!