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Sunday reflection 11 December 2016 – Surprised by joy

Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 (following the Christmas play)

(3rd Sunday of Advent when we light the pink Christmas candle of joy on the Advent wreath).

CHRISTMAS REFLECTION 

At Messy Church / Messy Christmas this month we had a story which had this key line in it: Keep Calm and Carry On. And the people responded each time: It’s Messy. Christmas.

And it doesn’t get much messier than this today.

  • Jesus on a mad King’s hit-list.
  • The massacre of the innocents – all those little boys slaughtered.
  • Jesus the refugee – anticipating perhaps the 65 million refugees in the world today.
  • A dad with international travel plans that appear out of nowhere – virtually overnight (in a dream). (Joseph, you could have given us some warning!)
  • Settling in Nazareth! What a strange choice…. Nazareth! Can anything good come out of there? (John 1:46 – the words of Nathanael).

So how much JOY do you think they “enjoyed” in those early years?

Great question really. I’m not sure they were in it for the joy ride. (Like the people in “Jingle Bells” laughing all the way on their sleigh).

It speaks to our lives – when they are not ordered and predictable, when God is at work stirring us up to listen to his voice, open ourselves to dreams, and being willing to be sent where He wants us to go. To speak to the people He wants us to speak to. To be vulnerable. Even ostracised. To live a roller-coaster life – which is the closest it gets to a “joy ride”.

How are you doing when it comes to being flexible for God’s plans?

What kind of Joseph or Mary would you have been? How would your marriage have coped? Would you have gone off in the right direction? Or headed for a port to escape like Jonah did?

And would you children have been obedient like Jesus?

Remember the one thing said about him as a boy.

Two things matter actually – his words about being in his Father’s house, and the gospel writer Luke’s words about the boy Jesus.

Listen to the whole passage – he had been “lost” but not really in the story in Luke 2.

Luke 2 ends with this: Luk 2:49  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luk 2:50  But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luk 2:51  Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 

Luk 2:52  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.

Will you grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people in your future? Especially you young people who are the age Jesus was when that was written.

If you grow like that – you’ll know real joy.

Christmas joy does include the yummy things and great presents. I “enjoy” the carols too.

But nothing beats the deep joy in our hearts when we are listening to God and going where He wants us for His purposes. Being who he wants us to be.

The Joy of the Lord will be our strength, said the prophet Nehemiah in 8:10.

King  David wrote this:  God will fill our hearts (lit: You have filled my heart ) with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound in Psalm 4:7.

Knowing the Creator is always far better than knowing even the joys of his creation. God’s gladness invaded David’s heart.

And that happens when obedience is the goal, not the joy itself. When we have a true undivided heart for God.

What is in your heart then?

As C. S. Lewis points out, we will never know joy by seeking it.

Joy or gladness comes as a side-effect of the presence of the living God.

When Lewis became a Christian, he was in his words “surprised by joy.”

May you too be surprised by joy. This Advent and beyond.

May a pink candle be lit in your life every day!

Amen.

 

Sermon, 29 May 2016 – Amazing Faith

Reading: Luke 7:1-10; Psalm 96

Message:

Do you remember the first place Jesus preached at? That great sermon quoting from Isaiah – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me”

Quiz question 1: Where was that?

Nazareth – where he had been brought up.

Quiz question 2: What happened next?

They chased him out. Like modern hearers of sermons they were less than thrilled. In Luke 4:29 (another reminder on 29th May) – they tried to throw him off a cliff.

I always find that comforting when people are less than thrilled by my sermons. It’s never got as bad as Luke 4:29.

In this case Jesus walks through the crowds and goes on his way.

Quiz question 3: where did he go next?

Capernaum of course. Everybody should know that. Here’s a more recent picture of Capernaum than the ones Jesus took on his Kodak bible-matic camera of the day:

Capernaum

Can you see the Octagonal church there? It’s built over the site of an older church which in turn was built over the site of whose house?

Quiz question 4: whose house? Which disciple and first pope? Why Peter of course. We all know that.

Stuff happened in Capernaum. It was a town of about 1500 and the fishing village where Jesus called Peter, James, John and Andrew to leave their nets and follow him. And it was also the village of Matthew the tax collector.

The man in Luke 4:35 who is cleansed of an evil spirit is set free in the synagogue in Capernaum. That got peoples’ attention. It wasn’t your average Saturday synagogue session.

In 4:36 we read this:
Luk 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” Luk 4:37 And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 

Jesus goes to Peter’s house after this – and heals his mum in law. That got them talking I’m sure. Rebuking fevers and what have you.

It gets so frenetic – well just listen to Luke: Luk 4:40 When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.  Luk 4:41 Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.
Luk 4:42 At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them.  Luk 4:43 But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

In Luke 5 there’s another commotion. Such a crowd – that these people carrying a paralysed friend break a hole in the roof of a house to let him down so that Jesus can heal him.

Here’s the line that sets a cat among the theological pigeons: Luk 5:20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The Pharisees are less than thrilled. Knowing what they are thinking, he says:

Luk 5:23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?
Luk 5:24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”
Luk 5:25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.

Now you may wonder – why all these details about Capernaum.

Well – it’s because when we get to Luke 7 which is today’s reading – he’s back in Capernaum. We’ve seen quite a bit of faith in Capernaum. Point well made.

But in Luke 7 – this is not a Jewish setting or a synagogue gathering.

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a Roman centurion in the mix.

Weird. Fascinating. A man from an oppressive foreign power.

With all those Jews less than thrilled about Jesus forgiving sins and healing on the Sabbath – some Jewish elders come with a request on behalf of a gentile occupier from a foreign army.

There’s a bit of sending going on here.

The centurion sends the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help with this sick servant.

The reason they give is fascinating too: “This man deserves to have you do this, Luk 7:5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”

So Jesus goes along. Game? Curious? Compassionate?

On the way the centurion sends others – this time friends – with a message.

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Up to now people were amazed at Jesus and his works.

This time its Jesus who is amazed. Listen again: Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

We’ve heard and sung about Amazing Grace. This is amazing faith.

At this point – let’s stop for a while and consider this picture. Ask yourself – is this funny? Is it fair? Where are you in this situation? Are we like Eugene?

Eugene Cartoon

DISCUSSION (in small groups or with the person next to you).

Talk about Eugene and his faith in the cartoon on screen. Here are some questions to discuss about our prayer life and our faith:

1. Are there things I am still asking for after 47 years?
2. Should I give up?
3. What are the big things I am trusting Jesus for?
4. How amazing is my faith?
5. How does it compare with the faith of the centurion?
6. What do you find amazing about his faith?

(group time).

SHARING TIME: So what “ponies” are you still praying for? Do you still have amazing faith for some things – for a break through – for a prayer to be answered.

Go back to Luke 7:

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
Remarkable that Jesus should say this.

The man’s words are remarkable: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.
Luk 7:7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Luk 7:8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

TWO POINTS TO TAKE HOME

1. “I am not worthy” – it’s so like the prayer of humble access in the Communion liturgy of some churches:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy:

It’s so like the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15:

Mat 15:25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
Mat 15:26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Mat 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Sometimes our prayers make us sound presumptuous.

2. It speaks of who Jesus really is. The real stunner is this – that he says that Jesus did not even have to be there physically for the healing to take place.

This cuts across everything people believed and experienced about faith healers. Just say the word. He’s saying something about who Jesus is – as the God who speaks and things come into being – like creation. Remember John 1 – nothing has been made that was not made through Jesus, the Word of God.

WHAT ABOUT US

The troubling things about this whole story is where we fit in.

How amazing is our faith?

Are we a bit like the Jewish people who wanted to debate things? Who had preconceived ideas? Cherished notions we don’t let go of?

Especially on healing and whether God really speaks. In two weeks’ time we will have Tony and Sue Kerr and their team here. Will we really expect God to speak and act?

Are we open to learning how to minister like they do? Because they are willing to come along and equip us to be used to bring God’s restoring power and love into other peoples’ lives.

(Are we on another level? Do we think – I wish we had a centurion who would sponsor our synagogue/church?)

Have we given up? – like Eugene’s friends who tell him – “we’re tired of hearing your prayer request. Go and buy a pony!” in other words – solve it yourself.

As we travel through Luke’s gospel we will find other amazing things that God does.

This one is about Amazing faith.

Maybe we need to ask for “amazing faith” ourselves.

Luk 7:9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”

What’s he saying to the angels now about the faith he finds here in Browns Bay?

Amen.

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.