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17 March 2019 Sunday message: Our citizenship is in heaven.

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Overview: In the reading today Paul talks about citizenship. Earlier in chapter 3 and in other epistles he shares the complexities of his many identities. Paul was a Jew, a Pharisee and a Roman citizen. He values these identities. But he finds a new one IN CHRIST.

Message:

There is a great story of a wealthy businessman who went tramping and got lost. While making his way through the thick growth of the forest he came across a local man who was quite protective of his patch. The local man called out to him: “who are you and where are you going?”. After getting help from this man, and reaching the end of the clearing he said, “would you like to come and live in the city?” The man replied – “no thanks I’m fine here. In any case how would I live there? I have no work.” The wealthy man replied: “I’ll give you a job. I’ll put you in an office next to mine.” The local was surprised at that. “What would I do there?” he asked.

“Every day” said the wealthy man “your job will be to come into my office and ask me that question: ‘who are you, and where are you going?’”

It’s a great question. It’s about identity and it’s about destiny.

In our reading today we see the shaping of Paul’s new identity. The Christian identity is firstly:

  1. A CLEAR IDENTITY

Who are you? asks the woodsman, the local in the story. It helps to be sure. Certain.

The Christian identity is described in a number of foundational ways including the new birth (John 3) and adoption by God as children (Romans 815; Ephesians 1:5). A key one is this:

  • 2 Cor 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
  • Rom_8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

It’s a significant term because “in Christ” we participate in his act of salvation. We die with him (he dies in our place) and we are raised with him (the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us).

With this in mind, let’s look at what Paul writes in the first verse of our reading from Philippians today:

Php 3:17  Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

If we are copy or imitate Paul’s example here as he suggests, everything else becomes secondary to this one thing of being “in Christ” and of knowing this Jesus.

“in Christ” we find ourselves safe too in our Christian identity.

Paul’s other identities are surrendered to this single identity as a Christian. We see this as  we read earlier in chapter 3: Php 3:7  “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Includes his Jewish pedigree. And then there’s the next verse: Php 3:8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

The Philippian context us useful here. The people who lived in Philippi were Roman citizens. They valued that but did not want to go back to Rome. They stayed in the colony called Philippi -and wanted it to be like Rome. They liked the security and stability, the infrastructure etc.  There were SAFE in Caesar’s province. He was in charge of their world and they were safe in that knowledge.

But now the Philippians were becoming believers. Just as the peace of Rome and its privileges extended to the Roman citizens in Philippi (many of whom were the equivalent of today’s army veterans) God’s Kingdom on earth is the peace – the shalom of God on earth lining us up with the perfection of heaven.

This is supported by the Lord’s prayer where this realignment is reflected in the key part of the prayer: Mat 6:9  “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Mat 6:10  your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul’s new and clear Christian identity is such an all-consuming thing that he describes it like this: We are in Christ, and Christ is in us (Colossians 1:27).

So to summarise: Heaven sends Christ – Christ calls us and commissions us to work on his behalf. We are as his body an extension of Jesus who ushered in the Kingdom.  It happens through us when we are  in him and he in us as the will of God becomes a reality on earth. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 5 where we are “in Christ” and therefore a new creation we are also called his “ambassadors.”

All of this is part of our identity.

We know who we are and where we are going. Our identity and our destiny.

  1. A CLEAR DESTINY

It’s clear from the whole of his letter to the Philippians that Paul had a passion for doing Jesus’ will on earth AND a desire to be with the Lord.

After writing that for Him to live was Christ and to die gain, he has more to say. Look at  the whole passage:

Php 1:21  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Php 1:22  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Also remember what he says in 2 Corinthians 5: 2Co 5:6  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 2Co 5:7  We live by faith, not by sight. 2Co 5:8  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Clearly Paul understands his identity and his ultimate destiny. In fact there is a tension between the present and the better future to come in all these passages. There is a longing for what is better.

But it is dangerous to have our priorities reversed. When Paul admonishes those who don’t follow his example, he is quite concerned about this failure. If we return to Philippians 3 we read:

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

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

He shares this often and with tears, mourning the fact that these people are missing the boat as it were. Instead of a longing for a better destiny, seeking God’s kingdom, being ambassadors of this new creation in Christ, some of his readers are like this:

  • They are enemies of the cross of Christ.
  • Their god is the stomach, or their belly
  • Their glory is in their shame (GNB …proud of what they should be ashamed of)
  • Their mind is on earthly (or worldly) things.

The description Paul gives here is that of pagan behaviour focusing on physical pleasure and appetites. This is a warning to the Philippians of the day and to us that our lives should not be conditioned by the world of the senses. These are people who seem self obsessed and whose priorities are inverted.

More than that, to live as an “enemy of the cross” is to deny God’s sacrificial way of rescuing his people. The cross involves self-denial as Philippians 2 reminds us.  We too should be like  Jesus who gives up power. Terror and violence and the use of power to prove  a point is the exact opposite of jesus’ way.

The consequence of living like this is clear in verse 19:

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction

It’s a sober warning. But for those who don’t go that route, there are great benefits.

They have a clear identity and a clear destiny.

And we like them live in this in-between time and state where we shouldn’t want to escape the world because we are called to be ambassadors in it, extending his will and his Kingdom.

Our destiny does of course includes the certain hope of eternal life.

  1. A CERTAIN DESTINY (A CERTAIN HOPE ON EARTH AND IN “HEAVEN”)

Returning to the passage in Philippians 3 we read: Php 3:20  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

This is not an escapist approach wanting to get to heaven ASAP. For now, we pray and act to bring God’s Kingdom into reality on earth. With the hope of the future in mind – the hope of the new heaven and new earth – the recreation of all things, we work NOW to bring God’s love to bear on the world.

As we do this it follows naturally that we have a solidarity and bond with our earthly citizens like the people of those mosques in Christchurch who were so tragically gunned down this week –  not only because we abhor violence and hatred, but because love and compassion are essential to our Christian DNA. They are signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth. And the Christian community is and was from its inception a multinational family, which goes against views that make any particularly ethnicity better than another. I love it that the followers of jesus were first called Christians in the very multi-ethnic church in Antioch (Acts 13:1).

(See previous post on bbpsermons about the Chistchurch shootings on 15 February 2019) https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2019/03/16/reflections-on-the-christchurch-shootings-15-february-2019/?fbclid=IwAR2ig1yzAF4So7eQdKSTkV788sMiPI6vo9no03T04-C2VRSx6QJzjSI0Eno 

In fact being the body of Christ – his hands and feet and voice who are his ambassadors urging people to be reconciled with God, we show compassion and care as an expression of his Kingdom and God’s character seen in Jesus and duplicated in us as his followers. After all Jesus’ new commandment is this: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34).

But what about this heavenly citizenship? What do we make of this? Is Paul wanting to get out of here to a better place? A kind of Christian “beam me up Scotty”  if you remember the Star Trek transporter.

No – he is IN CHRIST. His desire is also to be WITH THE LORD fully. Remember: Php 1:23  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; Php 1:24  but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

He recognises that he is needed for ministry to them and others.

In the meantime – like us –  he is Heaven’s citizen living on earth. The only really important dual citizenship.

He is like the Roman colonists in Philippi who remain Roman citizens but stay in the colony rather than going back to Rome.

And so are we. We are like colonials from heaven.

So he can declare:  But our citizenship is in heaven

And I love the promise of what that means that follows in these verses

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, Php 3:21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

What a glorious day it will be! For the frail, the infirm, the amputee and the disabled. More than that, it will be glorious for the able-bodied too. I am so looking forward to my body being transformed! And being with the Lord.

In the meantime, we are citizens of heaven representing the Kingdom coming on earth. There is much work to be done:

Showing compassion in the face of terror and tragic deaths, modelling Jesus’ way by imitating Paul as he imitates Christ; praying that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and modelling his will and way of life for others to witness.

This is our identity and our destiny.

As a lovely end to this passage, Phil 4:1 records why Paul tells them these things: – they need this certainty to stand firm in difficult times:

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

Our identity and destiny certainly keep us steady in troubled times too.

Amen.

Sunday Message 3 April 2016, Easter 2 – Peace, Power, Purpose and Pardon

We watched “Risen” this week. Some of our home group managed to go along to the movies together.

I was quite intrigued and moved all at once.

The story is told from the point of view of a Roman soldier, played by Joseph Fiennes. His job is to find the body of Jesus which they are told has been stolen.

Ultimately he sees Jesus with the disciples – and realises that this is the same man he saw dead and buried.

It did make the idea of resurrection very real. Startling. Unnerving. And exciting.

You have to have some sympathy for Thomas who for some reason or another wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to most of them.

That Sunday night Jesus shows up – and Thomas is invited to check out those wounds.

He is response is a profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’ life changes radically. We have it on good authority that he eventually takes the Gospel of Christ to India. Like the others (apart from John) he eventually gives his life as a martyr and witness to the gospel.

What’s more intriguing is Thomas’s name. He is called Didymus – the twin.

There’s a good chance his actual name is Judas Thomas (meaning Judas the twin). He can be forgiven for changing his name or sticking with Thomas. I had a conversation with someone this week who is changing their name for the sake of English speaking people who can’t pronounce a foreign name.

At breakfast this week we will be asking the question “what’s in a flag?”.

So what’s in a name then?

Not too many are given new names by Jesus. Simon the reed becomes Peter the solid rock.

Most keep their names.

But they become known by the name that is eventually given to followers of Christ.

“Christian”

Christian names traditionally given at Baptism are also symbolic of a new identity in Christ.

Scripture bears this out. These are key verse we should know:

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (new creation)

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sinn for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

John 3 (born of God – from above)

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent,n nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’

Ephesians (old self are replaced with new self)

21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

THESE ARE KEY QUESTIONS AT HIS EASTER TIME:

  • What are we known by?
  • How do people see us?
  • How are we really changed?
  • Are we really different?

TODAY’S READING FROM JOHN TELLS US MORE ABOUT THIS NEW LIFE.

  1. We receive His peace. (PEACE)

Paul tells us this too:  We are justified by faith – we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

The peace with God is foundational – and relational. And then there is inner peace:

We have a peace that passes human understanding (Philippians 4)

Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

He spoke about peace before his departure in John 14:27 and 16:33:

Joh_14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Joh_16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

He speaks peace to them at each resurrection event. (I am sure he would have as when dead people show up it is very troubling).

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 Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Joh_20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

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!”

  1. He gives us his Spirit (POWER)

This word for breath – like the word for gardener last week – is very unique. It appears in Genesis when God breathes into Adam – and Ezekiel 37 – where life is breathed into the dry bones (dem bones dem bones…) ἐμφυσάω – emphusaō – means a puff literally. For those who have asthma – you will understand how vital that puff is. I don’t have too much trouble with my asthma. I did have a serious attack last year. Without being over-dramatic – it was one of those Psalm 31 moments – “my times are in your hands”.

Without that life – we are dry bones indeed. Dead. Without that power – we have no confidence or boldness to go out – which is what happens next. The power is immediately given for the task. The peace, the commission, and the power all belong together as we see in verses 21-22:

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.

  1. He sends us out (PURPOSE)

This is a Trinitarian mission statement. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (v21).

We still have some streets to cover in our task of handing out the “Hope” booklets. Have a look at the map in the foyer.

It’s easy to leave it to the pastor or elders. Or to support missionaries who go across borders.

The thing is – we are all sent.

That’s why we talk about “one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic (sent) church.

Matthew 28’s great commission is just another way of looking at the passage today. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…”

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.”

  1. He makes us a forgiving people (PARDON). We take on the Father’s nature, and the son’s (father forgive them – his words on the cross).

It fits with Jesus’ teaching on the Lord’s prayer:  Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”  Or in the traditional Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Do we? Often we don’t because we are angry or offended.

This is probably our weakest point. Christians have to be careful. Gossip and scandal are both unhelpful. We are often the ones who shoot our wounded.

Fortunately, we have a wonderfully merciful and loving God.

If only we could be more like Him. Actually we can – with his peace, power, purpose and pardon!

Forgiveness is not only our weakest point – it’s also a most misunderstood point. Listen again to this passage:

John 20:23  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (NIV)

 What do you make of that? Listen to it in this translation: John 20:23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSV).

The church is God’s family – and some things just are not ok. You can’t tolerate evil. Or rebellion. Or deliberate or wilful sins. The health of the family is at stake. (Matthew 18 has a process for that reason – first confront the person, then take a couple of witnesses to confront them – and if that doesn’t work tell it to the whole church. Exclude them because some things are just not on.)

Tom Wright helps us here as he writes about this passage:  They are to pronounce, in God’s name and by his spirit, the message of forgiveness to all who believe in Jesus. They are also to ‘retain sins’: to warn the world that sin is a serious, deadly disease, and that to remain in it will bring death. They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world. Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 2: Chapters 11-21 Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 2436-2439). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

When there is genuine sorrow for sin and repentance and restitution – then you don’t have to retain those sins. Simple hey. It’s all about the body – the family – and the harm people can do. It’s not about our being unforgiving for personal wrongs people have committed to us. (And we always add this point – that forgiveness is a process – especially when there has been abuse. It may take a long time to reach there. And it does not mean we forget what people have done, or that we should not put up boundaries when people are toxic.)

Listen again to what Wright says of the commission to the apostles:  They are to rebuke and warn– not because they don’t like people, or because they are seeking power or prestige for themselves, but because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world

What a challenge to be people of the resurrection and the cross.

Christ did not die for nothing. He died because the wages of sin is death. He died. The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. We live.

How can we not be changed?

Amen.

Sunday sermon 9 August – Paul to the Galatians (final)

Reading: Galatians 6:1-15

Sermon notes (especially indebted to Tom Wright’s commentary)

Galatians is a rough ride – if you are the kind of person who favours peace at all costs. We’ve seen that Paul has serious issues with people who pervert the Gospel in any way. He is direct, explicit, and confrontational in every sense as he takes these Galatian Christians on. Paul the Pharisee is equally zealous as Paul the Christian preacher.

And of course we have as a result some of the most profound passages in the New Testament. Let me remind you of some of them:

Gal 1:3  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Gal 1:4  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, Gal 1:5  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Gal 1:8  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! Gal 1:9  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Gal 1:11  I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. Gal 1:12  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Gal 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal 3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Gal 3:2  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Gal 3:3  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Gal 3:22  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Gal 3:23  Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. Gal 3:24  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Gal 3:25  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. Gal 3:26  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, Gal 3:27  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:29  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal 4:4  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, Gal 4:5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Gal 4:6  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Gal 4:19  My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, Gal 4:20  how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

 Gal 5:1  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Gal 5:5  But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Gal 5:11  Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. Gal 5:12  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!  (we missed that one!)

Gal 5:13  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Gal 5:14  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

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

Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control. 

Gal 5:24  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Gal 5:25  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal 5:26  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The closing verses – chapter 6

In the last chapter of Galatians, Paul reveals his pastoral heart again. Freedom from sin comes through Christ. But this is not freedom to do anything you like! We are slaves of God – and we are set free to serve another. We are not without obligations – we need to be honest with each other too. We are to correct others who do wrong:

Gal 6:1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

The restoration should be gentle! That is one of the fruits of the spirit – gentleness. And by the way “restoration” here is a word that would have been used to set a broken bone straight so that it can heal with the best possible outcome.Gal 6:2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

6:2 – our last week of preaching on Galatians – verse 2 is gold – what is the law of Christ? Transformed Torah? Reformed and Lutherans differ on this. Christ transforms the law to take away its ability to curse (Reformed). Love of neighbour is fulfillment of the law – pun on the Law of Christ (Lutheran). He doesn’t unpack it – just puts it there. No second letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 6:1-6 is about God’s intention for us to ensure the well-being of the neighbour – (and climaxes in v15 – new creation is the key (see below)).

One commentator put it like this: Verses 1-6 allow Paul to say more about what the life of people who live by the Spirit looks like. The list of virtues we saw in 5:22 are really all about relationships and how we manage life together.

Do you remember them from last week? “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Patience is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Generosity is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”

The baptized, those brought into ancient people of God in a new way are to fulfill a new law –  that of Christ, by bearing one another’s burdens.

Paul describes the radical mutuality of such a life. Assist one another and evaluate only yourself. Do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbour, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.

By exhorting his hearers not to grow tired, Paul reminds us that this is indeed a hard way to live. (Sarah Henrich)

Listen to the next verses 6 to 10: – life in the spirit is practical: and financial!

Gal 6:6  Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Gal 6:7  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal 6:8  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Gal 6:9  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:10  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Tom Wright translates this passage in a helpful way: 6 If someone is being taught the word, they should share with the teacher all the good things they have. 7 Don’t be misled; God won’t have people turning their noses up at him. What you sow is what you’ll reap. 8 Yes: if you sow in the field of your flesh you will harvest decay from your flesh, but if you sow in the field of the spirit you will harvest eternal life from the spirit. 9 Don’t lose your enthusiasm for behaving properly. You’ll bring in the harvest at the proper time, if you don’t become weary. 10 So, then, while we have the chance, let’s do good to everyone, and particularly to the household of the faith. Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 77). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Another commentator puts it like this: (Elizabeth Johnson) What this means is clear – Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow,” Paul says (6:7). Our way of life will have its natural consequences. If we “sow to the flesh,” led by self-seeking desires, we will reap the only thing the flesh can produce—corruption. If we “sow to the Spirit,” led by the Spirit and investing in what is eternal, we will reap eternal life from the Spirit (6:8).

Tom Wright has this to say about these last verses:  I loved talking to people about the church and what it was doing: its worship, its life, its service to a wide community. People knew it was true, and they respected what we were doing. But when it came to suggesting that they give money, I found myself running out of words. Some people can do that easily, and I’m not one of them.

But I used to console myself by looking at how Paul went about it. The classic passage is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but the same thing that is true there is true here too: Paul manages to write about money without ever mentioning the word. Clearly the subject was as delicate in his world as it is in ours.

The result is the present little paragraph. Like the previous one, it has many wider applications, even though its central point is the quite specific one of financing the ministry and life of the church. Paul begins with a clear command, which most churches in the modern world studiously ignore: those who are taught the word should share ‘in all good things’ with their teacher. (By ‘the word’ here Paul probably means something wider than just ‘the Bible’, though the Bible remained at the centre of his message; he meant the whole gospel of Jesus, rooted in the Old Testament and worked out through the apostolic teaching.)

The natural meaning of this is financial, though gifts in kind are quite appropriate as well. It is perhaps because churches have often neglected proper payment of the ministry that the ministry itself, the teaching which could and should be building up the church, has sometimes been thin and unsatisfying.

This gives quite a sharp point to the verses that follow. The picture of ‘sowing’ and ‘harvesting’– a development in Paul’s mind, perhaps, from the fruit trees at the end of chapter 5 – seems to be tied also to the giving of money. We will come to the wider meaning later, but we should pause and reflect on this.

If church members ‘sow’ to the spirit, by giving solid practical support to the church’s ministry, especially in teaching and preaching, they themselves will in due course bring in a harvest.

If, however, they ‘sow to the flesh’, spending their resources on the numerous pleasures of ordinary life, then all they will have to show for it will be the corruption and decay to which everything in the world is ultimately subject.

Fine houses fall down. Splendid clothes wear out. The ministry of the word builds up people and communities, and the life they then have will gloriously outlast death itself.

So Paul is eager that the ordinary Christians in Galatia should ‘do good to everybody’ (general phrases like this were in regular use in Paul’s world, referring to financial contributions in civic and community life), especially to the family marked out by faith.Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 77-79). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Final greetings in  11-15

After Paul’s personal few words (he would have had a scribe for the rest of the letter as he dictated it) he wraps things up:

Gal 6:11  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Gal 6:12  Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Gal 6:13  Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Gal 6:15  Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. (no verbs)

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

Tom Wright’s closing lines on Galatians say this: Grace reaches out and embraces the whole world. The sign of that embrace is not a mark in the flesh, but the presence and joy of the spirit.

So it was in the first century; so it is now, in the church and world that still needs the message of Galatians. So it will be until faith is rewarded with sight, patience with the final harvest, and eager hope with fulfillment. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 84). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

Amen.

Sunday sermon 9 December 2012 – Ready or not? Prepared?

Gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6

Reflection

In the midst of all these world events and powerful people – Luke mentions leaders from Caesar to Pilate – to Herod and his brother Phillip, Lysanias – and the high priests in the temple at Jerusalem – with all their power and influences in their various sectors – there’s John the son of Zachariah hanging out in the wilderness. The desert. A typical prophet. Alternate. Different views and different diet. Weird – in fact. Dressed in camel skins and eating wild locusts and honey. Locusts are very tricky – those little bits stick in your teeth…

The focus is not on this unusual man, however. After the sweeping statement locating this story in historical time and its politicians and priests – the focus is not on the man.

The subject of Luke’s pronouncement is very specific:

“.. the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” The Word of God comes! The focus is not on the man  – but on the message God gives him. Wonderful. Awesome! God’s word came to John after hundreds of years of prophetic silence. And God – through John – declares that they are to get ready.

There are different kinds of readiness and different levels of seriousness in our preparation in life.

I meet so many people really who when I mention Christmas get a pale frightened look on their faces and bleat out an apology: “I’m not ready”.

Last week we talked about being ready for Jesus’ return – or at least for our death and journey to eternity.

READY OR NOT – is a game children play. ‘Coming – ready or not!’

Death comes our way.  In the secular world people who are dying are often encouraged to sort things out – to focus on preparations for their stuff and family – not wanting to leave a trail of mess and unfinished business, and wanting to provide for their loved ones. Funeral insurance is sold on this basis – don’t leave them with a huge debt, and so forth.

On a daily basis people get ready each day for work (many struggle to get this right too!).

And there are other preparations we make. On a more spiritual note people used to get ready for church each week.

READY EVERY SUNDAY

There was a time when the one really important readiness ritual we went through was on a Sunday. Churches were quiet places to enter into. And for the newcomer it seemed odd and boring. Nevertheless there was a sense of getting ready (in dress) and preparing (in heart and mind) to come into God’s presence. Of repentance and making right – confession and new beginnings. Stillness. (Very different now as we are a rowdy bunch really).

PREPARING THE WAY TODAY

In the midst of our Christmassy busyness today we hear God’s Word in the words John the Baptizer (he was never a Baptist!)

John’s task is to get people geared up for the salvation that comes from Jesus! Listen again:

“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

TODAY IT’S ABOUT READINESS FOR WORKING WITH GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW

Or God working in us.

The desert – the wilderness – was not an unusual place God to speak to people. In fact people today are quite keen on those desolate yet beautiful places for retreats and reflection. They are less distracting.

But for most of us – if we don’t take the time and open our hearts and minds – our daily routine in the city or at home – can be like a desert. Dry. Dusty. No water of life. No energy. No word from the Lord.

The Essential Jesus 20 weeks and 100 readings have given many of us a new discipline and a new commitment to read the Bible. The point is – in our deserts – God speaks to us today – through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.

THE CHALLENGE OF JOHN’S MESSAGE AT ADVENT

In the midst of the tinsel and Christmas expectation – all that wrapping paper and exotic food – it’s a very challenging thing for preachers to be true to this passage.

The candle we lit was for peace. It’s a lovely idea and all our hearts are softened when we think of the conflict of the world and the need for peace. We admire peacekeepers and pray for peace.

But true preparation for the coming of the Messiah – required repentance. Peace came at a cost. Changing direction and changing one’s mind – these actions are associated with repentance in the Bible.

I am sure that John – in his time of preparation in that lonely place we call God’s calling – the calling of prophets and preachers alike (in fact preaching is prophecy in the literal sense of speaking God’s word – “speaking forth”) – would have some straightening out of the paths in himself – smoothing out the rough places in his heart. He would have had his own repenting to do.

This repentance – if you are looking up – means you have to look down at the world from God’s point of view (imagine being able to see all the rage, anger and abuse going on with a view from heaven). If you are going north, it would mean changing direction to south. You get my point.

It’s a spiritual 180 degree turn which inevitably leads to a physical change in direction as well.

The truth is we need so much turning that we can easily become disorientated and dizzy. And our world can be like a desert, or a steep hill, or even a deep valley to claw out of. I remember a serious road crash we had some years back – where we went over a steep hill – and only a sand trap by a tree prevented us from disaster. We had to crawl out of there.

As we hear God’s word – and if we are serious – we have to make some moves. Our interior landscape can be quite bumpy.

And we do struggle sometimes because we want instant results and answers. The truth is a lot of the change that happens in us is slow and painful.

It takes time to clean things up in our lives. Like those bits of locusts that get stuck in your teeth. It needs some digging around.

So it makes sense that we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)

We need to set our compass with Jesus as our true North.

Wesley understood the challenge of true conversion and ongoing repentance and transformation when he wrote his hymn Love Divine. Listen again:

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley

You can’t get that movement towards a new creation if you’re stuck somewhere in the wrong place or going in the wrong direction.

And changing the landscape of our lives takes time. Like changing the course of a river there is a lot of stuff to be shifted.

May you work on your spiritual preparation this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world.

May we make the right moves and let him change us – bit by bit – on our journey.

Amen.