John 20:19-22 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!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
With Anzac Day coming up – there’s a lot of talk about security and keeping the peace. And at a personal level there are many people who don’t experience peace in their lives. Anxiety tends to crowd peace out in this day and age.
What I like about this Easter account in John 20 is how Jesus greeted these fearful, distressed and confused disciples with a greeting of peace. In this short passage it happens twice.
I wonder what peace means to you?
Here are some of the things that peace does not mean:
- Peace does not mean we can pretend that war or conflict or failure has never happened.
- Peace does not mean that there need be no apology or remorse.
- Peace does not mean there should be no accountability for things that are criminally wrong.
Pretending that something didn’t happen is the worst thing. It makes people feel devalued.
In every part of life people abuse both power and position in very damaging ways. Historians looking back on World War 1 especially can see how foolish the worlds leaders were in taking the world to war. And how often don’t you hear people praying for leaders today to becoming peace makers. Leadership is probably one of the most important areas of life in every arena – good leaders often determine the fate of nations and the world.
At that first Easter it was the leaders who were in trouble. After the terrible execution of Jesus – and the failure of his disciples – particularly Peter – it must have tough when Jesus kept appearing in their lives.
In John 21 the peace making continues. They had gone back to what they knew best – they went fishing.
And Jesus meets them there – in their retreat to the old world they knew before they met him. He takes them back to their better days as disciples by doing the miraculous fish thing again – and he gets their attention. Listen to the tone of this conversation:
Joh 21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” Joh 21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (ESV)
Then he invites them to breakfast. It’s a great example for us – eating together is the best place to sit and really share one’s life with another, and to have those difficult conversations.
- The details are there – the thoughtfulness
- He has the Barbeque going – he has fish and bread already.
- He meets their basic needs –while allowing them to catch an abundance of fish as well.
- And then proceeds to restore Peter. Peter who had denied him three times publicly. Those denials had to be addressed for him to come to a place of peace.
And by the way – if you don’t get how serious this was – imagine your best friend, or loved one being arrested and executed for no good reason. And you denied knowing him or her. ( hymn: Do your friends despise, forsake you?)
Jesus asks Peter – three times –
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times – one for each of the three terrible denials. He uses Simon his old name – meaning a reed. And not the new name he’d given him – Peter – the rock. Peter would have understood the implication. At hearing the third question we are told that Peter was hurt. Ironic – considering how he’d treated Jesus.
I do think he understood true remorse and sorrow.
Luke records that he had wept bitterly when he failed.
And Jesus fed him at that breakfast. That act of kindness was part of the restorative process. Three times he responded to Jesus – “I love you”. Three times Jesus gave him the pastoral care job that was to be his – “feed my lambs – tend my sheep – feed my sheep”.
I love reading Peter’s words as an older and wiser person:
In 1Pe_1:2 he says in his greeting: (to God’s elect )who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
He goes on to say in 1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,
He also writes in his second letter: 2 Pet 1:2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Later he writes: 2Pe 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 2Pe_3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
There is an interesting end to this passage. Jesus gives Peter the good news that he will live until old age – but also predicts his death. Like the other disciples – Peter would give up his life for Jesus at some point. I think Peter would have been at peace about this too.
This peace is something that Jesus gives us. Do you have it? He also said this:
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.
And returning to today’s passage: Joh_20:21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
We need peace to take the gospel of His peace to others – and to be peacemakers. And we need his peace in abundance.
Receive the peace of Christ today wherever you are.
Readings: Psalm 139:1-12; 23-4; Phil 4:4-8; John 14:15-27
Once of my favourite movies is “Keeping the Faith” – where a rabbi and a priest fall in love with the same girl. The rabbi is fired for doing different and unusual things in his attempt to modernize. This scene is his farewell sermon:
I often think about that sermon.
How much of yourself do you share with your congregation? It’s a great challenge if you are a minister.
After all, preaching is about the Word of God – and should always lead people to Jesus, and not to the preacher.
That’s one of the reasons why Presbyterian ministers wore black – it was meant to not draw attention to themselves. I think these days if you wore black all the time people might think you’re an alien who was supposed to land in Wellington. After all they wear black there. A lot.
Sometimes I’m probably a bit too transparent. But today I don’t have a choice.
If we’re talking about anxiety and peace – they are very personal things.
Anxiety by definition is individual first. Human beings get anxious. We worry. And we don’t have peace of mind in a personal sense.
Peace on the other hand could be looked at from a broader worldwide point of view – peace between nations, tribes, families, gangs and so on.
God’s SHALOM is a social and personal idea – we area meant to find peace together. We make peace with each other. We pray for peace between nations and rightly so. And we seek and have internal peace.
Did you notice the rabbi’s first word in his sermon? SHALOM. Peace.
They didn’t respond. I’m not sure if they were supposed to, like churches passing the peace. It reminds me of the minister who was trying to get his laptop working at the beginning of the service and forgot that his radio mike was on. He muttered to himself “there’s something wrong with this mouse” – to which the congregation replied without thinking: “and also with you!”
Peace can be contrasted with anxiety therefore.Let’s look at anxiety first. The verse I want us to look at from the readings today is this one: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
It’s found a famous song by J Edwin Orr written to the well known Maori tune after a mission at Ngaruawahia in 1936 – Search me oh God – when young Maori girls sang farewell to him. We know it as “now is the hour”
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei
(On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land
But return again
To your loved one,
I love the Hebrew language. It’s so rich.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
“Anxious thoughts” is one word in Hebrew. Some translations just say: “test me and know my thoughts”. Thoughts here is not just a little bit of thinking about something.
The mind is a mine field isn’t it. Our thought life. Worry worry. Sleepless nights thinking thinking thinking.
Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on method” introduced us to that famous line:
COGITO ERGO SUM – I think, therefor I am – a philosophical statement which led him ultimately to postulate a view of humanity or human beings.
I think it was the Moody Blues in the song “In the beginning – lovely to see you” who used the line and added some doubt to it: “I think am, therefore I am… I think.”. It’s a creation image with a crescendo – and then these thoughts:
I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
The song includes the words about people who: Face piles – And piles – Of trials – With smiles.
“Anxious thoughts” could also translated be as “cogitations” from that same Latin word Cogito.
Cogitate means: think deeply about something; meditate or reflect. Synonyms include: think (about), contemplate, consider, give thought to, give consideration to, mull over, meditate (on), muse (on), ponder (on/over), reflect (on), deliberate (about/on), ruminate (about/on/over), dwell on, brood (on/over), agonize (over), worry (about), chew over, puzzle (over), speculate about, weigh up, revolve, turn over in one’s mind
Ruminate, dwell on, brood over, chew over – is only one small step to grinding your teeth and being restless and anxious. Mr. worry pot.
The new translation of Psalm 139:23 in Afrikaans captures it beautifully:
“… ondersoek my, sien tog my onrus raak.” – examine me, see my unease.
Onrus – unrest – back in the day, meant political upheaval with violence. Really disturbing things.
Like the rabbi in that Yom Kippur sermon, its hard for me to know where to start when it comes to sharing my life with people in the area of anxiety and stress. I’ve suffered from some post-traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. They still lurk when I hear an ambulance siren.
Many times these verses have applied to me: Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psa 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Sometimes my anxious thoughts are linked to some offensive way in me. I am sometimes feeling off because I need to sort myself out. The problem can be with me.
But many times serious anxiety is beyond our control due to outside circumstances and events that are traumatic or challenging.
I can’t tell you the whole story in my journey today. But I can testify to the peace of God that passes all understanding. It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.
Paul in our second reading in Phil 4:7 speaks of this “peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, which will “guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus”
It’s worth memorizing this verse 7 – seven is a perfect number – you may remember it as it rhymes with heaven. What leads us to this “seven – heaven” state of peace?
Why verse 6 of course: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious about “anything”.
Easier said than done of course. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an automatic response from the brain designed to protect you from danger.
What I had to do was to pray through the anxiety and after some years it eased – together with the transformation of my thinking to realize after some years that it could have been much worse.
So when someone close to me experienced real anxiety this this week I said the same thing that the counsellor said at the time – which I didn’t receive easily. It was too early. The counsellor said this to me – you’re going to be okay and nobody died.
I don’t agonize over a lot of things any more. No more serious cogitating.
Paul tells us not be anxious about stuff and events – anything. Writing from jail (he wasn’t a prison chaplain but an inmate) he says: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“with thanksgiving” means that thanksgiving is a foundational attitude in prayer.
Some people battle to pray out loud initially. You can. Say thank you for something and you will have the foundation for other prayers – petitions and requests.
Yes, there are times for silence.
But when we pray together we need to really pray.
Prayer and petition. “gebed en smeking” again using the Afrikaans; “prayer and supplication”. There is as begging almost, a pleading, and a passion that seems to be involved.
It’s captured in some of the Psalms. These two are good ones from David and the sons of Korah:
Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. Psa 61:2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psa 61:3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Psa 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Psa 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
Psa 84:2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psa 84:3 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. Psa 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.)
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
You can see the parallels with passages that talk about thirst.
This is a longing for his presence. We shared last week about living water welling up from within the depths of our being – that he is with us and in us.
Listen again to verses 16 and 17 of our final reading in John 14: Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor 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.
The gospel reading goes on to say that the peace is linked again to the presence of God through His Holy Spirit:
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.
We need to focus and listen and not be distracted as we pray and plead, bringing our prayers and petitions to our Father. He is here.
At Presbytery we had some workshops yesterday. I went to one about expecting more from God.…
The teaching was brilliant. It was really a series of bible passages reminding us of his presence with stories about God being in situations and really working in people’s lives in power – that’s when the peace he offers becomes tangible.
The neat thing is that the presenter spoke last year at the New Wine retreat I went to in August up at Coatesville. As she shared yesterday, you could sense something happening in the room – as people’s faith began to increase. At the end she asked people individually what they were expecting from God. It was good to hear. And inspiring.
You have to know this peace to be effective in any kind of ministry.
You can’t give what you don’t have really effectively.
I believe he wants you to have his peace today
Jesus’ peace is not as the world gives.
- Not total tranquility, or the absence of troubles or challenges… – but peace in the storms
- Not a perfect life or complete healing (though some are fully healed)… but courage to face what comes our way (I’m happy to talk to you on another occasion about my health – for now be at peace about it as I am doing very well.)
- Not an exemption from thinking through issues – remember “I think, therefore I am” – but at least peace of heart AND MIND. Remember the heaven in verse seven of Phil 4: Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Not a life where everything is for free or without cost. Have a look at this sign: “I pay, therefore I am…” The notice said: PLEASE PAY YOUR PARKING FEE BEFORE EXISTING. Jesus’ peace involves knowing he provides as well.
- Not a life dominated by trauma and anxiety – post traumatic recovery is possible. He really can heal us from damaging experiences.
In conclusion remember Jesus words about anxiety in Matthew:
Mat 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)
Or in another good translation: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)
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.