Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14
Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?
I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:
MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS
- Sleep and relaxation
- Eating and drinking in moderation
- Keeping calm during family gatherings
- Doing good
Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.
By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂
Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.
Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.
And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!
You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.
The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?
- It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
- But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.
Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.
Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments. All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’
John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)
We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;
He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.
So what does that mean?
1. No longer orphans or lost boys
It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.
Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:
2. Having a really good father
Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”
The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:
I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone
The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word
3. We also don’t have to be afraid…
Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.
Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.
John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:
God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”
Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7.
These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.
A blessed Christmas to you all.
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11
STORY: “Finders keepers.”
My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.
I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.
I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.
Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.
I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.
(Hopefully the owner of the mug will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)
So let’s talk about joy today.
So how joyful will your Christmas be?
And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?
If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?
Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!
Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.
But what about us?
The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?
Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.
Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.
Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.
In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.
Like “I am H A P P Y”. You can’t really sing it and be miserable.
Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.
Research indicates that people feel great after singing together probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.
So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.
The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.
Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known. My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.
The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?
The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.
It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.
It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.
For example in Paul’s writings:
- For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).
Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.
There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)
JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.
SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY
If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.
So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).
This news of Te Harinui.
They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.
When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.
For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:
Mat 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“good news of great joy” was needed.
The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.
Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.
So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.
The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!
So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.
This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.
That is good news of great joy for all of us.
Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.
Reading: John 20:19-31
I was talking to someone about how short this week was.
It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.
I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.
I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.
So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?
Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.
Which reminded me of this story.
In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”
Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”
Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”
This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”
So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.
There are so many choices. Things we could look at.
- Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
- What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
- Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
- Is this the actual birth of the church?
- Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
- Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
- Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
- What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
- Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?
(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV – “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)
SOME THOUGHTS THEN
Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.
This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.
In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.
This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.
It follows their commissioning – As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.
And empowers them.
If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.
From chapter 14:
Joh 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 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.
In chapter 15:
Joh 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
And chapter 16:
Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.
You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.
I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.
TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:
- “Doubting” Thomas.
Was he really a doubter?
Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.
This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).
They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:
Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life
Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:
It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.
And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.
It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.
2. Peace be with you.
Do you need His peace?
We’ve talked before about the power of grief.
Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.
Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.
You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.
They needed some assurance. And so do we.
He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.
Here – let my peace uphold you.
And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.
And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.
W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.
And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.
It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.
We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.
He says to you too today:
Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).
Peace be with you.
READINGS: Psalm 84:1-4; 10-12; Matthew 10:24-39
I drove in here on Thursday morning – and guess who was in my parking space?
Yes – you got it right.
A whole lot of sparrows. Scurrying around as they do.
Not quite sure if there was really anything for them to eat there.
I actually think that God was reminding me again of how loved we are.
I love this picture in scripture:
Listen again: Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
In the light of this, consider the local cafe in Browns Bay where the man killed off the sparrows because of their enthusiasm for people’s leftovers.
A worse story is this one.
It’s a story about a sparrow that somehow got into the rafters of St. Helen’s Parish Church in the English town of Brant Broughton. At the time of the intrusion, they were recording a guitar recital for later broadcast on the radio. The chirping bird didn’t exactly chirp with the beat. So the pastor, Rev. Robin Clark (ironically) asked the congregation to leave and then asked a friend to bring his pellet gun over to the church to shoot the intruding sparrow.
The killing of the sparrow became front page news in Great Britain. The London Daily Telegraph ran a clever headline that said, “Rev. Robin Orders Death of Sparrow.”
Editorials and letters to the editor flowed, chastising the cruel and unusual punishment for this lowly bird. People who hadn’t darkened the door of a church in decades suddenly remembered Psalm 84 in which it is declared that even sparrows are welcome in the house of the Lord (84:3).
We heard Psalm 84:3 today: Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Poor Rev Robin. Poor little sparrow. We can easily sentimentalise things.
The comparison of course means we are more valuable than sparrows. And nothing happens to us either that he does not allow or care about – that’s the implication.
What it doesn’t say is that the sparrow will be spared – or that we will be spared. *They were sold two for a penny – probably to be eaten.)
Persecution is the background to this passage. The cost for some people is jail and execution – more in this generation than ever before. There is often a price to pay. And many are not spared. Martyrdom is rife today in many parts of the world. And if we escape this, there is no guarantee we will escape some other suffering.
And yet he still cares.
John Wimber tells the story of the man who led him to Christ – whose daughter had been raped and murdered, how he got his family together at the end of that terrible day and said: “Father, I don’t understand, but I trust you.” His forgiveness of the perpetrator was a great witness, and many came to Christ through him, including Wimber, who in turn impacted hundreds of thousands through the Vineyard Church movement.
Wimber speaks about the man’s character development and how he was prepared to be an evangelist through heartache. He writes: “if we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what he is doing.” He quotes a friend who says: “Sometimes he offends our minds to reveal our hearts.”
After the sparrow story comes these lines which challenge us again:
Mat 10:32 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
We do that in church – in public profession of faith with baptism that formalises our membership of the church – that speaks of our belonging to Christ, of being in Christ.
And if people were baptised and made a public profession of faith in another congregation our Session can resolve to admit them to membership of this one.
By the way – we plan to welcome people next month who have made that public declaration along the line and now find themselves here in this local church. We would love to include you in that special day if you have made this church family your family.
The context of Matthew 10 is different though. It’s an acknowledgement in the face of risk. Is a pubic admission that we follow Jesus – in society.
It has to mean that we identify ourselves out there in our daily lives.
And then the rest of the Gospel passage which we did not read today makes sense but is even more challenging:
Mat 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Mat 10:35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— Mat 10:36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Mat 10:37 “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; Mat 10:38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Mat 10:39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
It’s almost as if today we are quite disconnected from this early discipleship.
It is radical – and requires huge commitment. And Jesus comes first before everyone else. And you have to take up your cross and follow – otherwise you’re not worthy of Jesus. And this is not the kind of self-punishing “cross I have to bear.” It’s a death to self. It’s that we are Christians – little Christs – and his cross is our cross.
It’s risky and illogical in a sense– if it’s about you, then you lose. If you surrender your life for Jesus’ sake – you win!
How about that?
And how about us?
- Do we acknowledge Christ in the rest of our lives (outside of Church life)?
- Or are we living a double life? Secret Christians?
- Do we love Him more than all those listed? Father, mother, son or daughter? (v37)
- Are we radical enough?
- Do we take our crosses and follow Christ? (Admittedly some of us have crosses thrust upon us that we would not choose).
- Are we worthy of Jesus?
Great questions these! It’s up to us really!
BUT THE THING I WANT YOU TO TAKE HOME more than anything else – is that you don’t have to be afraid as you follow Jesus.
Last week we threw our anxieties at Jesus – do you remember my worry pot?
The kids wrote their worries on bits of paper and chucked them in.
Today I invite you to give your fears to him.
Mat 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Mat 10:31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
And I pray that a sparrow crosses your path each day – to remind you that you are worth infinitely more as a child of God.
To end – listen to the song: no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God. Receive his peace.
Readings: Psalm 55:1-8; Luke 8:22-25
Have you ever wanted to fly?
I don’t mean on an aeroplane. I mean if you could just grow wings and go wherever you want.
In Psalm 55 David is having troubles with a whole lot of things and people. Crazy scary emotions. His heart is in anguish – probably racing – he is experiencing fear and trembling and horror – and he prays this prayer which has been sung for many years around the world since written in 1844 by Felix Mendelssohn the German composer:
Psa 55:6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—
Psa 55:7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah
Psa 55:8 I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.
Here it is to listen to:
Of course you wouldn’t really want to be a dove – there are horrible cats out there and birds of prey that can nab you.
But there are times when we feel like escaping the storms of life. The troubles out there and our fears and concerns in our hearts.
It does feel like we are in a storm tossed boat.
The bible reading from Luke today is about a scene like that.
A number of Jesus’ followers were fishermen and they did travel by boat at times – Jesus was quite busy around Lake Galilee. Which actually is quite big – 166 square kilometres. Not as big as Taupo though – which is 616 square kilometres.
I’s not surprising Jesus is asleep in the boat. He would have been ministering to many people and large crowds tended to follow him.
His followers are really stressed by this storm. It’s described here as a squall – by Mark as a furious squall, and by Matthew as a furious storm. Maybe Matthew the tax collector didn’t have sea legs and it felt much worse.
So they wake Jesus up – don’t you care we are going to drown?
Sounds like our prayer lives. Save us! Don’t you care? It’s all a bit much in the storms of our lives.
Amazingly he speaks peace – and the storm is stilled.
And of course he tells them off – you of little faith! (Matthew). Do you still have no faith? (Mark). Where is your faith? (Luke).
If you are in a storm today in your life.
If your boat is been overwhelmed by the waves and you feel you may sink.
And it feels like He is not hearing your cries for help – that he is sleeping – be of good cheer and have faith! Trust him!
Listen to Psalm 121 – which is one of the Psalms they would pray as they went up to Jerusalem to worship. Let it speak to you.
Psa 121:1 A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?
Psa 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psa 121:3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
Psa 121:4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
Psa 121:5 The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
Psa 121:6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
Psa 121:7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
Psa 121:8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
He is not asleep. He’s right here with us.
Receive His peace today.
Speaker: Sean Cloete
Readings: John 13:31-35; Revelation 21:1-6
Good Morning everyone and welcome to Anzac Day Sunday.
This is the day that the Lord has made,We will rejoice and be glad in it.
If you are just visiting this morning you are all most welcome – and thanks for joining us.Thank you also to the residents and staff of the Freeling Holt Home for the wonderful Anzac Day display in the foyer.These folk are part of our Tuesday congregation.
God Bless them for doing this. Please have a look at this after the service – it’s well worth it. Tomorrow, is the 101st anniversary of the landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey during WWI. I see many of you are wearing red poppies this morning – just like this one.The red poppy has become a symbol of war remembrance the world over.
People in many countries wear the poppy to remember those who died in war or who still serve. In many countries, the poppy is worn around Armistice Day the date when WW1 came to an end at the 11th Hour on the 11th Day of 11th Month 1918. But here in New Zealand they are more frequently seen around Anzac Day, 25 April.
The Red or Flanders Poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War. The Poppy was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders.But it really depends who you speak to.
There are many who still believe that the uniqueness of the colour red of the Poppy has something to do with the amount of blood which was spilt on the Western Front during WW1.Please take time to remember those who fell on that terrible day in 1915.
When I look around the church this morning I see people who would have lived through and may even have served in WW2, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars.
There are also people who may have served or have family who served in New Zealand Peacekeeping forces in Malaysia, Indonesia, Kashmir, Yugoslavia, East Timor and the Soloman Islands.Also folks from further afield such as the UK, South Africa and Zimbabwe, who have also lived through lengthy periods of conflict.
Please join with me as we acknowledge those brave few who made the ultimate sacrifice down through the centuries.
The Anzac spirit will live on in those who come after. And by that I mean all those who come after – and who make New Zealand and Australia their home.
So, in the words of the Ode – join with me please:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
We will remember them.
I remember the first time I went to an RSA – and being very new in NZ I really didn’t know what to expect. When 6pm rolled around, everyone got up and the Ode of Remembrance was recited by all present. At the end I said Amen – but nobody else did.I thought this very strange because we were acknowledging those people who had given the ultimate sacrifice – and therefore I viewed it as a prayer.
What we are really doing when we recite the Ode is remembering the fallen – as you might do at a funeral or a dedication.I have been to funerals before of fellow soldiers who had died in action.I always remember how incredibly sad these occasions were, as all of these men who died were young.When I got home I thought I would try and found out a bit more about the Ode.
I found out that it is taken from a poem called “For The Fallen” – and written by an Englishman named Robert Binyon.It was specifically composed in honour of the casualties of the British Expeditionary Force who fought and died on the Western Front during WW1. Over time only the words of a single verse of the poem have remained – and to this day that one verse remains as a tribute to all casualties of war, regardless of country.
You should have a copy of it in front of you – so when you go home find a quiet place and read it.It’s very moving.But if you ask me say the Amen at the end – because it just sounds right. Amen.
On a day such as this the words from Psalm 91 – which is sometimes called the Soldiers Psalm – come to mind.
Just listen to these words ……
Shall we pray?
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
If you make the Most High your dwelling refuge no harm will befall you and no disaster will come near your tent.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
History shows us that ever since the dawn of time man has always been ready to go to war. War was always the easy way to do things.
Has the world ever been at peace – you may ask. Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.
Estimates for the total number killed in wars since the beginning of recorded human history is approaching 1 billion people. Over 100 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century alone. So, it’s important this Anzac Day that we celebrate Life and not death.
War is not Glorious or Romantic. There is no Honour in War.The first casualty of war is Truth.Often those who are at war forget why they went to war in the first place.War is not worth even one life.
John F. Kennedy said that “Mankind must put an end to war, before war puts an end to Mankind”.
But Sean, you might say, where are you going with this – and how can we link War with our readings this morning – which are all about Love.
In John 13:3-35 Jesus says: A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.
It is really a new commandment – the only other commandments that existed at the time were those given to Moses by God. The 10 Commandments.
And in Revelation 21:6 John writes: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Jesus is all about Love and the water of life is the Holy Spirit – and the Holy Spirit is also all about Love. Although war is the last resort and will always be the last resort sometimes it is necessary.
- In the Defence of one’s country.
- In the Protection of one’s family.
- To Stand up to the forces of evil.
Edmund Burke – an Irish Statesman from the 18th Century summed it up like this:”The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Just like soldiers go off to war to fight against the forces of evil, so we as Christians go off to war every day to fight these same forces. But unlike the soldiers in a physical war who were able to see the opposing forces, we, as Christians fight that same fight. But we are fighting an unseen enemy and an enemy infinitely more powerful and terrible than anything we have seen in this world before. Please be aware that our adversary Satan does not play fair.
In 1 Peter 5:8 we read: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
War is the second best option – the best is Love.
We need to be aware of the horrors of war and the violence that surround us in this world – as a priority we need to remember the Love of Jesus.We are followers of Jesus Christ so we are not citizens of this world.
In John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.But now my kingdom is from another place.”
What we sometimes forget is that Jesus also made the ultimate sacrifice but He didn’t die for His mates or His country he died for all of mankind, so we can be saved and be able to share in Everlasting Life.
Someone asked me the other day why does God allow wars to happen? The answer is quite simple. God doesn’t allow wars to happen.
Ask yourself this question – who is the God of this Age?
In 2 Corinthians 4:4 we read: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The only reason God gets involved in wars is to protect those whom He loves.Satan does such a good job of deception that even the best of us can be fooled.
Timothy writes in 1 Tim 6:12: Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession.
Note that he uses the word fight. Sometimes we as Christians have to.
In the hymn we sang earlier Stand up, Stand up for Jesus – the writer highlights that we are in a battle. He writes:
Stand up, Stand up for Jesus ye soldiers of the cross –
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.
And goes on to say….
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.
Put on the Gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer;
To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be;
They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.
This is one of the most stirring hymns in all of Christendom.
But it has come with some challenges over the years. As a result of the images of Christian militarism in the hymn, some people object to the hymn, and some people do not stand to sing it.Some politically correct lobbyists around the world have seen it as too aggressive.
However, in Psalm 100 the Psalmist encourages us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Although the hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus is only about 150 years old I bet that if the Israelites sung this hymn when they were fleeing from Egypt the Red Sea would have parted by itself. And any army who sings this song would be Unbeatable, Bullet-Proof and Indestructible.
Unbelievable isn’t it that this world can have such double standards – even when it comes to powerful hymns – such as this one.Which is really just about Love. The Love our God has for all of us – and the Love we have for Him.
Love is also a powerful weapon. After war Love is the only thing that can heal the wounds.It can infect sinners.It can soften even the hardest of hearts – it humbles the strongest of us. And it can strengthen the very weakest of us.
It can take a boy like David and make him a wise King.It can take a murderer like Saul and turn him into Paul – the greatest and most fearless of all Apostles. And it can work in all of you – and can make you what God wants you to be.
In John 3:16 – possibly the most well-known verse in the Bible – we read:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
If something is holding you back – just let go.Your life will never be the same again.
Try and attend an Anzac Day service tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be a Dawn Service. And say a prayer of thanks for all those who have made our life here in New Zealand easier.
In conclusion I would like to read for you the poem:
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Let us pray:
Lord, Please be with those who do not acknowledge You. Through your Holy Spirit please minister to us all. Have patience with us and please give us Your peace. Guide us we pray as we make our way in the world this week. In Jesus Name. Amen
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 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?
Reading: PHILIPPIANS 4.2– 9
4:1 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!
4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.
4:3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus
Two or three thoughts (maybe more) at our service this Tuesday. First of all the two women mentioned in 4:2.
- The two women – the need for unity
There are different theories about these ladies – especially the meaning of their names. Perhaps Euodia (with the long o), means fragrance; but we are told the correct reading is with the short o, the meaning being prosperous journey. Syntyche means happy chance. Others suggest that Euodia means literally “prosperous journey” (eu, hodos). Syntyche they say means “to meet with” and so “pleasant acquaintance” or “good-luck” Either way it would have been better for them to get on together. Paul has to get the team motivated as co-workers in the cause of the Gospel. (See John 17 on Jesus’ prayer for unity and its impact on mission).
And of course Paul is in prison – the next thing that challenges us as he calls us to rejoice always!
- Paul in prison – rejoicing in every situation
John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:
Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June; a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November. One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?
Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.
I think we get his point. And then thirdly, we are challenged by our commitment – are we those who strive for the Gospel to reach others?
- Contending – striving for the main thing
The image in Greek is drawn from athletic contests. Usually, athletes competed one against another; in Php 1:27 Paul asks the church at Philippi to compete together as a team of athletes to help advance the faith that comes through the preaching of the gospel. (We saw that he also mentions Euodia and Syntyche as those who were contending for the gospel side by side with himself.)
In the first chapter of this letter he writes this: Php 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.
And in this passage when trying to get them to get along. he says: Php 4:3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
What a challenge. Do we strive for these things?
And of course the rest of this well known passage lists other things we should do as a consequence of following Christ. (On this Sunday coming we will look at a similar list in 1 Thessalonians 5):
- Paul’s exhortation to strive after other Christian virtues as well
Paul exhorts the Philippians to strive after four basic Christian virtues: (1) “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. Php_4:4), (2) be gentle to all people (v. Php_4:5), (3) be prayerful, not anxious (v. Php_4:6), and (4) meditate on excellent things (v. Php_4:8).
I encourage you to read this passage a number of times as you reflect on your journey with Christ.
Tom Wright’s translation of Philippians 4 is helpful as we close:
Celebrate in the Lord!
2 I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord.
3 (And here’s a request for you too, my loyal comrade: please help these women. They have struggled hard in the gospel alongside me, as have Clement and my other fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.)
4 Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate!
5 Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near.
6 Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.
7 And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus.
Wright, Tom (2011-11-30). Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 128). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Readings: Micah 5:2-4; 6:6-8 Matthew 9:3 (Following the Narrative Lectionary)
There are two things I’d like to share with you today. Nothing complicated. Very simple. But also challenging! You know the saying about preachers – we are tasked to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
We are reading prophets today. Even the New Testament verse refers back to Hosea the prophet (prophesying in the northern kingdom).
Mat 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
(Hos 6:4 “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.
Hos 6:5 Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you.
Hos 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
You can’t really read the prophets at all without getting a sense of when these words were spoken – context is everything.
I spoke about David, if you recall, who ruled for 40 years, as did Saul before him. Actually Saul reigned for 42 years.
And then Solomon – daughter of David and Bathsheba – reigned 40 years too.
So some 122 years of kingship. Unity ends in 931 BC.
And of course the kingdom divides in two after that. Israel (10 tribes) in the north and Judah (two tribes in the south). Israel – the northern kingdom – has 19 kings through this period ending in 722 with the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.
And in Judah in the south 20 kings through to 586 BC when the Babylonians conquer the southern kingdom.
So Micah is a prophet in the southern kingdom, and a contemporary of Isaiah.
And his prophecy about Bethlehem is profound. Bethlehem is David’s city by birth (an overstatement in the Christmas carol – it’s a village or small town). We get all gooey when we read about Bethlehem as “O little town of Bethlehem” leaps out of our musical memories.
The issue is that Bethlehem is rather insignificant as a town. The Messiah comes from this small place – this little “house of bread!” Listen to verse 2 again:
Mic 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
Oh by the way Ephrathah means fruitfulness.
Hold onto this thought – Christmas is just around the corner – and these verses whet our appetites if we have a penchant for Christmas.
Verse 4 is also lovely:
Mic 5:4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.
There is a sense of something great – someone great – who will come from this insignificant town.
Small does not mean insignificant in the eyes of God. And the same applies to you – if you think you are insignificant in the greater scheme of things – stick around and see how God can use you as well! To be fruitful.
Just as Bethlehem was chosen to be the place – our small church in this smallish suburb is part of God’s plan to be fruitful.
That’s enough about
The real treat this week is Micah 6:8. It’s one of those famous verses that people love. In fact – apart from the reference to the Messianic ruler coming out of Bethlehem, Micah 6:8 is the only really famous verse in the book. I listened to a discussion of this passage between a New Testament professor and an Old Testament professor. The Old Testament man referred to the book of the prophet Micah, to which the NT guy responded – “Oh yes – that’s a nice yerse!”
What is the context here?
Pretty much the same as today – listen to the first 5 verses of Micah 6:
Mic 6:1 Listen to what the LORD says: “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say.
Mic 6:2 Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel.
Mic 6:3 “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
Mic 6:4 I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
In other words – God is reminding them through the prophet – of how he had led them in the past! There is almost a mocking tone:
Mic 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Mic 6:7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
It’s pretty direct really. What’s real worship? What really matters? Is it sacrifices (for us would it mean more offerings?).
Someone quipped that we don’t really have the problem of over-generosity today. It is hyperbole after all. Imagine ten thousand rivers of oil? There’s even an oblique reference to offering of one’s first born. “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Trouble is people did offer their children. Of course we would be aghast at that idea. Mind you – I recall a faithful and generous woman in our church years back who had a lot of kids – who told us once that when they were small she wished she could hang them up on a coat-hanger for a while.
Of course – Jesus is exactly that – if we become squeamish. Micah continues:
Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God
What’s it all about? Not whether you exceedingly generous with your sacrifices – as if you could impress God or buy his favour like a politician in many places around the world.
No – it’s simple. Micah 6:8 it is:
- Act justly
- Love mercy
- Walk humbly with your God.
I loved the humility of Frank who spoke last week. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve heard of him before. There is a big world out there of course! You’re not meant to understand the intricacies of South African history and life.
What I liked was his honesty – how he felt that he had ticked all the boxes on God’s list – church, giving etc. and somehow he felt that God owed him something!
Someone penned this thought: “Moral indignation has never led anyone to Christ, but mercy has.” Mixed with acting justly and walking humbly before God.
I want that in my life! At Messy Church Friday we talked about being saintly – which actually means holy. Of course we talked about the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Catholic tradition lists 12 fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. There’s a thought – adding generosity, modesty and chastity.
Micah gives us – Act justly, Love mercy, Walk humbly with your God. Good start if you are interested in being the light of Christ in this generation. This too is part of God’s plan for us as a church – to be fruitful.
All this church stuff. Meetings. Emails. Music and prayers. Discussions and disagreements. Questions and objections. A long hard year with all kinds of drama comes to an end this week. It’s had its joys and its tragedies. Its blessings and its pains.
The year has been interesting. Here’s a good visual aid to describe it:
Yes – it’s a new beginning – the start of the Christian year. It begins with Advent. The celebration of expectation and hope – looking forward to the coming of a solution – a rescuer – some come kind of hero to save the day.
· For the people of the day – Israel – they expected a rescuer who would solve their political needs – and set them free from foreign powers.
· For us today – well I’m not so sure what we are looking for.
Our preferred option is probably this:
So at new year we usually focus on the most important things. The fundamentals
The fundamentals of the Christian life? The most important things that God has shown us:
You can guess I suppose:
· Love the Lord your God with all your heart – would be one
Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God – has to be up the list too
The best prayers for the year – and every year:
· Help me – and
Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. THY KINGDOM COME, THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN
This thing of the King – and the Kingdom – it’s always there.
THE GOOD NEWS/THE JOYS
This must be one of them – those great gems in the Bible:
Have a look at verses 11 and 12 of Colossians 1:
11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
This is a new place to be – a new existence – the Kingdom of light – and of his Son is way better than the dominion of darkness.
Good word – dominion. New Zealand is a dominion. It has heaps of darkness too – and I’m not talking about long winter nights.
As a church – we’re pretty good at celebrating this redemption and forgiveness theme. I don’t think a Sunday goes by when we don’t pray prayers of thanksgiving and recognition that we’ve been rescued and forgiven through the cross.
But there are implications greater than personal forgiveness. There is community forgiveness – there God is calling us to account in terms of relationships – respect – kindness – the fruits of the Spirit. We need to see those.
If you are a source of joy here – then well done. If you haven’t read James 3 yet and the power of the tongue (as we did at home group this week) – if you can’t translate God’s grace to you into grace and kindness to others here – then be warned. I am going to challenge you and take you on. In the name of Jesus I implore you to be kind!
You see if we pray this stuff we have to live it! We can’t stay in the dominion of darkness. Listen to what John writes:
1Jn 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
1Jn 1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.
1Jn 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We have to live as children of the light. The bible is very clear about the things done in the dark – they will be exposed.
Listen to Paul again: 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified youto share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Gospel reading today reminds us again of the price Jesus paid for our rescue and redemption. It’s just before Advent – and Easter lurks in the background.
Luke’s words are direct and stark:
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
So who are the people that Jesus forgives?
They are listed quite quickly – they watch, mock and jeer. Listen again. It’s not a long passage today:
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
This terrible end to a wonderful life of service and healing is stark and horrible.
Yes the life was good – the years of affirmation, teaching, community, healing, reteaching – touching lives – preaching – fighting off of temptation
But look where it ends.
It’s very easy to end up in a lament for the power of sin and it’s consequences for this innocent and well-loved eternally begotten son of God.
Listen again to this terrible account: About this King!
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There is this voice of hope. “But this man has done nothing wrong”.
And his prayer for dummies (like my prayer earlier – “help me”):
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom…
Your Kingdom! Take me:
Where will your future take you?
· From the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of life.
· From hopelessness to a future.
· From pain to health
· From isolation to community
· From hell to heaven
· From the cross – “to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.
Rescue me from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son” – your Kingdom!
Did he have a clue as to what he was asking?
Do we – really – when we trust in him and open our hearts to him? Really?
And Jesus’ gracious word to this man deserving of punishment – according to human justice.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Richard Swanson comments on this in a poignant way.
Everywhere you look in Luke’s gospel, Jesus finds himself surrounded by faithful, courageous Jews. At the Jordan when John is baptizing, even the tax collectors reveal themselves to be looking for God’s Kingdom and longing for Roman departure. Later in the story, Zacchaeus makes it clear that those tax collectors at the river were not alone in being faithful, and Luke’s Jesus calls him a “son of Abraham” in response.
And now on the hill of crucifixion, Jesus finds another faithful Jew, one who is crucified with him. To be sure, the other two victims are bandits, not messiahs, and to be sure, one of them taunts him with the same words used by Roman soldiers and hired collaborators: Messiah, King of the Jews. The other victim, however, knows that Jesus is a king and has a kingdom. These are things that, in Luke’s story, only faithful, expectant Jews know.
If the Romans are paying attention, they should commence worrying at this point. Crucifixion was torture intended to teach a political lesson: Rome can crush the humanity out of you. Remember that. But this crucifixion scene is loaded with Jews who cannot be crushed. This is trouble for oppressors. Rome should worry. The centurion who observes the death seems to have figured this out.
I think the Jesus – the King who speaks on the cross – is still speaking to us today. We have His invitation to enter into this Kingdom of a loving, serving and forgiving King who on the cross said: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
May we invite Him – call on Him – believe in Him. This very different King.
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