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Sunday sermon 1 March 2015 – The upside down Kingdom…

Reading: Matthew 20:1-16

Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOME SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXAMPLES MIGHT HELP:

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

Can you think of others?

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

SO WHAT ABOUT US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

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Sunday sermon 15 February 2015 – Mountains and voices

Reading: Matthew 16:24 – 7:8

MESSAGE

There are three accounts of this Transfiguration in the gospels. Like eye-witness accounts of any event, they differ from each other.

In all three, Moses and Elijah are seen. We’re not always sure what to do with that. Elijah was transported straight to heaven. Moses was buried by God, according to Deuteronomy 34. In Moab – at an unknown site. Of course there is an interesting reference to his death in Jude 1:9. Have a read through the week.

What do we learn from this?

In the context of Matthew, Peter is in the background before we even read this account. He’s the first to recognise Jesus as Messiah. He doesn’t fancy the news that Jesus will die – so becomes Satan in the plot. Then he (with the twins with issues – James and John) are given the encouragement of this amazing vision on a mountain.

And Peter again gets a bit confused – wanting to camp out on the mountain in booths or tabernacles. I don’t think Elijah and Moses were planning a vacation up there. Mark says in his observation – “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened”. Luke is more blunt, noting that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which sounds like a euphemism for losing the plot.

We too like Peter have our ups and downs. The mountain top experiences don’t last. And we too would have been afraid.

Visions can be scary. When I was teaching I used to tell my students about the time I saw dead people. Being boys they loved those stories. And the one about the man who was dead for four days and then raised from his coffin. He came to speak at our local pastor’s association – that was interesting! And the boys loved the story of the funeral I did for a gangster. I digress.

The time I saw dead people walk through the walls is the point. It can be scary. In this case the hallucinations were the side effect of post-operative drugs. That was the time – you may remember – that while wrestling with a fever and hallucinations, the phone rang. I answered it and one of Sheilagh’s business associates was on the line. I told her that we were on a high mountain (the Drakensberg which is the name know to Africans) – and that the phone did not work at that altitude. “Please call her on her mobile” I said, and cut her off.

A different mountain. Tom Wright writes about the mountain in these words:

Mount Tabor is a large, round hill in central Galilee. When you go there today with a party of pilgrims, you have to get out of your bus and take a taxi to the top. They say that God is especially pleased with the Mount Tabor taxi-drivers, because more praying goes on in the few minutes hurtling up or down the narrow mountain road in those cars than in the rest of the day, or possibly the week.

He goes on to say:

Mount Tabor is the traditional site of the transfiguration, the extraordinary incident which Matthew, Mark and Luke all relate about Jesus.  Actually, we don’t know for sure that it took place there. It is just as likely that Jesus would have taken Peter, James and John– his closest associates– up Mount Hermon, which is close to Caesarea Philippi, where the previous conversation took place. Mount Hermon is more remote and inaccessible, which is of course why parties of pilgrims have long favoured Mount Tabor. From both mountains you get a stunning view of Galilee, spread out in front of you. *

They weren’t up there for the view, says Wright. This is one of those key moments – like Jesus’ baptism – where he is affirmed by a voice, and his followers are stunned and also told not to tell the story to anyone. There was obviously something specific for the three key men in Jesus’ team.

Here’s the key:

  • Mark 9:7 – Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
  •  Matthew 17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
  • Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
    35  A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
    36  When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

There’s a conversation happening between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

Peter makes a plan to build shelters and starts sharing his ideas.

In two of the three gospel accounts, while Peter is speaking – God interrupts.

Does he? Or is in fact Peter interrupting God’s work. The cloud of the presence descends. Things grow strange, perhaps a little dark – all three gospels talk about them being “enveloped” by the cloud.

  • Then the voice.
  • And the identification of the Son – Jesus – how he is valued, loved, chosen, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And then the command: listen to Him.

APPLICATION

Peter was on the wrong page really. But he got there in the end.

When Jesus was pinned up on the cross on another mountain – Calvary, Peter did badly again. As Lent begins this week and we prepare for 40 days until Easter, we are faced with our own faith response.

Are we sometimes on the wrong page? Think about that for a while. There were voices at our Session meeting this week – as we wrestled with some issues.

It was about when we meet for worship. Since my speech issues, we have been meeting at one combined service. We will ask you for your thoughts.

There was one voice that won’t go away in my head. It was the question about how we reach the people of Browns Bay on a Sunday morning – those down at the market.

That one I think will come around again.

On Mount Tabor – or Hermon, whichever it was, there was a command to the disciples: Listen to Him.

And when all is said and done, the commands of Jesus are crucial.

I suspect that the important ones include:

  • Love one another as I have loved you.
  • Do this in remembrance of me (communion today)
  • Go into all the world
  • Make disciples of all nations

You’ve probably got some that grab your attention too.

The disciples did listen to him. They made mistakes, they got things wrong, but they did follow Jesus! And most of them gave their lives in the service of the gospel.

I want to quote Tom Wright again – I can’t say it better:

Matthew, here as elsewhere, highlights the parallel between Jesus and Moses. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and then, before completing his task, went up Mount Sinai to receive the law. He then went up again, after the Israelites had drastically broken the law, to pray for them and to beg for God’s mercy. (Elijah, too, met God in a special way on Mount Sinai; but Matthew’s interest, throughout the gospel, is in the way in which Jesus is like Moses, only more so.) Towards the end of Moses’ life, God promised to send the people a prophet just like him (Deuteronomy 18), and gave the command: you must listen to him. Now, as Moses once again meets God on the mountain, the voice from the cloud draws attention to Jesus, confirming what Peter had said in the previous chapter. Jesus isn’t just a prophet; he is God’s own son, the Messiah, and God is delighted with what he is doing. The word to the disciples then is just as much a word to us today. If you want to find the way– the way to God, the way to the promised land– you must listen to him. *

That’s the gospel we have to tell others about. That’s why we are here.

May we listen to Him.

Amen.

 

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Sunday sermon 8 June – Pentecost

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

 Act 2:1  When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Act 2:4  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 

Act 2:12  Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Act 2:13  Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Act 2:14  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

 

1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

1Co 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

1Co 12:9  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,

1Co 12:10  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1Co 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

 

D-day.

What an amazing couple of days we’ve had – the 70th anniversary of the landings at Normandy.

TV programmes have played hours of footage about that crucial day in history.

I wonder whether the day of Pentecost has the same impact on you as D-day has on those who remember those terrible years of war?

We celebrate all kinds of other days with gratitude. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and often the day of peoples’ deaths brings those reflective moments and immense sadness mixed with thanksgiving. We’ve had a couple of those anniversaries this week in our church family.

So what about Pentecost?

Like our Communion service – this is not a kind of Memorial Day thing.

Communion reminds us of more than Jesus’ death and resurrection – the reality is that there is a reality now – His presence with us.

So too Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is God present here now.

He is the foundation of our ability to believe. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12: 3 – “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” 

He brings us to a knowledge and conviction of our sins – our need for forgiveness and a saviour – and our need for power to transform our lives.

And on that day they were waiting for = 120 of those believers – the church was launched if you like – catapulting from 120 to about 3120 after one powerful thrust shown by wind and fire and a great sermon, preached with boldness.

So today we could have a cake – celebrating the ancient birthday party of the church.

I could wear my crown of flames that Helen helped me make on Friday at Messy Church – to remind us of the tongues of fire – in Luke’s words:

Act 2:3  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Or I could illustrate the power of the invisible – like the wind (balloon release for children).

Of course Luke reminds us that it was the sound that got their attention:

Act 2:2  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  

And then the flames of fire that did not burn their heads.

We could give some thought to those images – and then call it a day –  we could go to tea – as we do on a Sunday – pleased with ourselves that we have endured another sermon – and perhaps the quickest sermon of the year.

Or we could think a little more about the Giver and His gifts. 

The waiting was for the gift Jesus’ father had promised. Remember Acts 1:4 and 5:

Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

In fact this is all about the Giver. God gives His Son:  

Joh 3:16  “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. 

The gift of the Son brings the gift of salvation. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:

Eph 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Eph 2:9  not by works, so that no one can boast. 

And then we read: … wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 

And when the gift came – there was a commotion – so that Peter has this to say:

Act 2:15  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!

Act 2:16  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

Act 2:17  “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Act 2:18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 

And in Corinthians today we heard again about the gifts that the Holy Spirit in turn gives gifts to us.

Pentecost – looking back – always puts us on the spot. 

If we pretend that it’s all in the past – then we are dishonest with the bible text, and the reality of Christian history. If we take the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only meant for the church’s launch – then we are probably quenching the spirit. Being the spiritual fire brigade – putting out the fire.

We can just give it some thought and move on – or we could wrestle with the text that tells us that the Holy Spirit actually wants to use us – give gifts to us as part of the body of Christ, the church – in Paul’s words:  1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.

1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Note – that all of this operating is for the “common good”.

If we’re open to the reality of the Spirit’s work in our lives now – we could find a whole new life that means real power and transformation now. If we are open to His leading and power.

I’m not sure that we have bought into this really. Perhaps that’s the wrong idiom.

It’s a gift – we probably don’t know the giver well enough to recognise the gifts that we havae – and to allow them to have their proper impact:

  • The gift of salvation
  • The gift of the Spirit Himself who brings power
  • The gifts of the Spirit too – all for the common good of the people of God – to strengthen the church in its witness.

It’s up to us really – to be the kind of receivers that put the gifts to work. If we do – it might break the paralysis we have in terms of people putting their gifts to work in the life of this church.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 May 2014 – The reason for the hope that you have

Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Message

Fifty years in church.

50 sermons a year.

A possible 2500 sermons.

What possible difference will this one make today?

That’s a fair question. It will make no difference to those who’re not here. It will make little difference to those who are asleep in the sermon slot.

It will make little difference to those who have pre-read the text and get frustrated because I don’t say the things they think I should say.

Well I’ve said this before. You don’t remember every meal you’ve had, but the food did keep you going somehow. God does use preaching as a way of reaching people with the Gospel.

Trouble is the people who need to hear the Gospel are not here either.

They’re out there in the community.

I love the passage from Acts set for today. The verse before (verse 21) says this:

Act 17:21  All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

It’s a lovely comment. The point is Paul was there – and after walking around he speaks into their situation like this:

Act 17:23  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

And off he goes with his sermon.

I suppose the culture and context allowed that. Today the same thing happens when people are actually on the lookout for opportunities to engage the society we live in.

It’s in the pubs and clubs that the conversations take place. For some of you it’s in the dining halls of your retirement home – or in the supermarkets.

For some more IT savvy it’s on the internet on web pages and chat forums.

Paul talks to them of course about an altar to an UNKOWN GOD.

Now we could have a great theological debate about that today. We could talk about “other gods” and other faiths – whether there are really other gods- or just skewed views of them.

MIssiologists do this. They study Mission and how the gospel connects with other people’s faiths and world views.

We talked about Missional church too – and debated it in leadership – about how the church would reach this generation.

The truth is more than two years of debate about how relevant the church is to younger people has actually worn me out. So much blame was thrown around that what I offered here on Sundays was not relevant or modern enough.

Hours and hours I spent on power points which for some of you were merely a distraction.

Lucky for you I’m on the 40 hour famine of food and technology this weekend.

So you just get my voice today.

My point is this – in all this time how many people have we actually led to Christ?

How many people have we actually witnessed to?

Some of you are good witnesses – keep going. Well done!

But most of us are pretty average or less than average.

In the readings today Paul preached a great sermon. The gospel went out. It matters not how they responded. Some believed – others tried to kill the messenger on his preaching trips. Some said they wanted to talk to him again about the message he brought.

Paul’s missionary journeys were full of adventure risk and pain. In a discussion in 2 Corinthians he writes this:

2Co 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

2Co 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

2Co 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.

2Co 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Last week we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. His was such a bad sermon that they stoned him. Perhaps you’ll want to throw something at me today. Go right ahead.

God used the people who were scattered after the persecution that followed Stephen’s death to plant one of the most important churches – the one in Antioch. If you came to Tuesday church this month you would have heard that message.

God honours his Word.

Stephen never saw the fruit of his labours. He saw rocks fall on his head. Then he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God! Standing note! Not sitting. Chances are Jesus was putting in a word for this faithful spirit-filled deacon who also was a teaching elder.

SO WHAT ABOUT US?

A couple of essential things about our mission and witness jump out of the readings today. The first one does more than jump out. It screams at us.

1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

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

This only works if the first part applies.

Remember what we talked about last week? Where are you hanging yourheart? Remember my story of the hat and coat stand it took me two hours to assemble?

Your God is where your heart hangs – said Luther.

Peter says: But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.(v 15)

Αγιασατεis the word. Honour Christ in your heart. Sanctify him as Lord. Set apart comes from the word for holy – which does not mean perfect but “set apart” or even dedicated.

If you haven’t done that – the rest won’t happen.

Here’s the outflow of this:

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

Listen to it again!

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

Well do you have hope?

Does it ooze from your lips and shine out of your eyes and roll of your tongue – hope – hope – hopeful –hopeful – hopefulness and more hopefulness!

Does it?

Are people saying to you? WHY WHY WHY can you be so positive when things are so bad! It’s soooooooooo bad after all. I’m soooooooo blue.

The church – the economy – my marriage – my spouse, you may say – if only you knew how blue it all makes me!

No – says Peter (writing to a persecuted church – I hasten to add).

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

AND OF COURSE:

But do this with gentleness and respect,

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

There’s no need to be arrogant. Or rough with people with different views. In fact we should respect them.

All we should do is be is:

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

Challenging isn’t it?

And if Jesus were speaking to us this morning – once Peter has unnerved us with his reminder of how we should be a witness to Christ – who is the reason for our hope, is He not?

Jesus would say – as He did in John 14:

Joh 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.

That creates a few problems does it not? No – it’s not another attempt to make us wither away in shame.

John 14 is the most amazing passage.

It started with “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

And here it speaks words of such power and encouragement again:

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.

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

It’s this last verse that gets to me.

It’s this last verse that gets to me. I was lying in bed the other night with tears in my eyes as I thought of children I know who have lost both parents – and the kids without parents because of AIDS and war – and so many other horrible things that happen – and this scripture was in my head:

Joh 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Jesus’ promise to us that we will have the spirit of truth in us and with us is profound.

There’s no need to pray for God to be with us. He is!

We’re just not always with it. Our eyes and hearts are not always open.

Even in witnessing – especially in witnessing – He promises to lead us. Did Jesus not say in Luke 12:

Luk 12:11  “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,

Luk 12:12  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

As we are nearing the end of the Easter Season – the finality of Jesus’ departure becomes more pressing.

We’ll be here on Ascension Day on Thursday night – a very special day in our calendar – because Jesus leaves them to be the exalted King of kings and Lord of Lords.

That in itself speaks volumes about where we hang out hearts.

But of course the waiting follows – and His promise not to leave them as orphans is fulfilled at Pentecost.

Here’s the key. It’s the presence and power and person of the Holy Spirit working in us.

When He has his way – then there is no fretting “O dear I am not a good witness”. Rather there is a natural (supernatural) boldness in us.

Then we will need more than two services if people come in here seeking what we have – that which gives us hope.

I’m not sure that we actually believe it to be possible. It’s called revival.

If requires faith to walk down that road. And even Jesus was hamstrung by people in places where they had no faith.

So the challenge remains for us. When we come alive to these things by His Spirit – then the world is somehow changed as we walk out of the door! Not that people become victims of potential bible bashing.

But that the people of hope begin to shine – and these portable light houses cause a commotion as others say –“tell me why you’re so different?”

Amen.

11 May 2014 – On sheep and shepherding

Readings: Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25;  John 10:1-10

The shepherd.

So why shepherds and sheep?

Is this some kind of Middle Eastern religious scheme?

Or does Christianity only make sense for rural people?

In all three readings today the shepherd is mentioned.

In the Old Testament Psalm. In Peter’s letter. And most famously the words of Jesus in John’s gospel

Of course the gospel reading mixes metaphors happily. Jesus is the gate too.

What are the main issues – the key things that we need to take for ourselves?

  1. We start with Peter.

Quite appropriate this week as the bishop of Rome recently made two new saints of previous bishops of Rome. And there was a retired bishop of Rome there.

The Pope is the bishop of Rome. Peter was given the job first (Catholics would agree on this) when Jesus reinstated him after his betrayal. Remember the words so powerful?

Joh 21:13  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

Joh 21:14  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Joh 21:15  When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Joh 21:16  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

Joh 21:17  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Joh 21:18  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, fed my sheep.

This is Jesus after the resurrection still using that shepherding picture.

He would have learned it from his parents – who would have been his faith teachers. Maybe they recited Psalm 23:

Psa 23:1  מזמור לדוד-   יהוה רעי לא אחסר

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Psa 23:2  בנאות דשׁא ירביצני על־מי מנחות ינהלני׃

Psa 23:2  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

Psa 23:3  נפשׁי ישׁובב –   ינחני במעגלי־צדק למען שׁמו׃

Psa 23:3  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

The shepherding touch of the LORD Yahweh that David knew as a relatively young boy.

  • Lacking nothing,
  • being refreshed and
  • rested in green pastures and quiet waters – comes out of faith that is a real trust and dependency.

It certainly is a kind of nurturing – which comes through in Jesus’ commission to Peter.

The result is PASTORAL CARE – and pastoral comes from the word for shepherd.

It’s crept into society in all kinds of places – especially schools – since the British started using it in the 1960s in their education systems. Google pastoral care and you will get information of the NZQA’s code of conduct for pastoral care of international students, apart from usage in other organisations. For example on the website of the British Law Society you find this:

Pastoral care – for solicitors – 020 7320 5795

Solicitors can call us for information on personal, financial, professional and employment problems. We will refer you to the most suitable helpline for your needs.

We’re here to help solicitors – 09:00 to 17:00 weekdays.

– See more at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/helplines/#sthash.2pmNJZcU.dpuf

I think that lawyers definitely need pastoral care!

The church’s view developed of course through history.

The bishops (or overseers) had a shepherd’s crook symbolically. This morphed into crown like tiaras (as in the triple crown) as they become more influential in worldly politics. So much so that the Bishop of Rome is a head of state today.

 

  1. What about the Presbyterians?

So what makes us different?

It’s the “presbyter” in Presbyterian that defines us.

A “presbyter” is an elder. So we are an elderian church.

Never mind Peter the shepherd for a while. Let’s look at Paul:

1Ti_4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

1Ti_5:17  The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Tit_1:5  The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Peter and James do refer to them off course:

 Jas_5:14  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

 Of course Peter does make the link.

 1Pe_5:1  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

1Pe 5:2  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;

1Pe 5:3  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

In fact Peter uses all three words as an explanation of the role of Christian leaders:

Elders – shepherds – overseers

Πρεσβυτερους– ποιμανατε– πισκοπουντες

In fact “elders” is a noun here. The other two are verbs or actions – shepherding and overseeing!

1Pe 5:1  πρεσβυτερουςAουν TSBτους εν υμιν παρακαλω ο συμπρεσβυτερος και μαρτυς των του χριστου παθηματων ο και της μελλουσης αποκαλυπτεσθαι δοξης κοινωνος

1Pe 5:2  ποιμανατε το εν υμιν ποιμνιον του θεου AεπισκοπουντεςTSBεπισκοπουντες μη αναγκαστως Aαλλα TSBαλλ εκουσιως Aκατα Aθεον μηδε αισχροκερδως αλλα προθυμως

1Pe 5:3  Bμηδε TSAμηδ ως κατακυριευοντες των κληρων αλλα τυποι γινομενοι του ποιμνιου

The word “bishop” of course is episcopos (hence Episcopalian church in America).

And of course the book of Acts – where there is a switch from talking about the Jewish elders who were in conflict with the early Christians – to Christian elders who looked after the church:

Act_11:30  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Act_14:23  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Act_15:2  This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Act_15:4  When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Act_15:6  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

Act_15:22  Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers.

Act_15:23  With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings.

Act_16:4  As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.

Act_20:17  From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.

Act_21:18  The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present.

Later in Acts “elders” once again refers to Jewish elders:

 Act_23:14  They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul.

Act_24:1  Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.

Act_25:15  When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

  1. So what does this mean:

The cure or care of souls – pastoral care – is the task of the ministry of the church. In the late 7th century Pope Gregory the first wrote a manual effectively on pastoral care, which influenced the church throughout history.

This “cure of souls” is closely linked to healing.

By implication – salvation and healing go together. In fact the word in the New Testament is the same.

So healing was more holistic before modern western medicine took control of it. When you were sick before this – you were more likely to be cared for by Christian ministers of some sort.

“Pastoral Care” is about shepherding.

About teaching, nurturing, admonishing and protecting Christians so that they grow closer to God and more like Jesus.

And in the elderian / Presbyterian church – the elders do this together.

Isn’t that good news.

You can receive ministry from a number of people – and not just the Minister.

In other words you can receive pastoral care from a number of people – not just the Pastor.

In the last line of the reading from Peter today the apostle – the catholic bishop of Rome or first pope (in their view anyway) says this:

1Pe 2:25  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Jesus remains the main shepherd – after all only he lays down his life for his sheep/friends – and overseer of our souls!

The word “overseer” there is “bishop”.

Yes he is Bishop Jesus!

And unlike other bishops – he is crowned! He can carry a sceptre and rule as King!

Confession time:

We don’t always do this stuff well. Our fault entirely. You can hang around here for quite a while and still not know who the elders are.

We will be making the names and some useful information about our elders to you in due course.

  • Some of you have an allocated elder who is supposed to care for you.
  • Others are in home groups – and they are all led by elders.

So there are options.

What we don’t do:

We don’t live in a parish any more.

Since the 4th century priests were allocated a section of the diocese called a parish. The word parish comes from the greek word παρоικία meaning district.

In that system if you lived in the district – a geographically defined area – you were in that Parish. Parish records were kept about people in the parish – and if you moved out of the area – you ended up in another parish.

The world has changed:

Consumer driven issues drive peoples’ church attendance. They travel long distances to go to the church of choice.

I don’t blame them really. And we don’t all live in the same area – people do travel. And we’re not going to draw a line on a map and send you to another church – like they do with school zoning.

But there is a different approach. It can be like this: I belong where I can be part of a community that really cures and cares for my soul.

Where I put roots down and build genuine relationships.

No more pretence. No more sweet smiles and “fine thank yous” when in fact I am suffering greatly.

  • Where I can know people and be known in a little flock of some sort – where we live out this Christian life with integrity. Honesty. And real care.
  • Where I grow in faith and knowledge – and can be strong and safe from the attacks of the enemy and of false shepherds who are wolves dressed up in some other outfit.

The home group remains the best place for this. And the wider church family forms the extended family for this.

So that when it happens as in Psalm 23: I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – I will know that Jesus is with me because his co-shepherds and other sheep are there for me too – helping me to care for my soul until the end.

And if you translate that verse 4 in another valid way –and I walk through the valley of deep darkness (in depression, grief or pain of any sort) – I can know the reality of the Good Shepherd with me not in isolation but in community where co-shepherds sustain me in love and prayer and acceptance – where the church is a hospital for the sick seeking to get better – and not a rah-rah party for people who think they have solved everything in their lives. Because they haven’t.

So there it is. We don’t have saints we pray to. Or reformer fathers railed against that. We do have saints we pray with – the people of this little flock.

Come out – people – from the isolation of thinking you have to go it alone – stiff upper-lip and all that – and be yourself in this family.

We all need feeding, care, and nurture. We are in regular need of forgiveness! We do behave as goats – even if it’s just because of our but-but-but arguing with God or the truth.

Please – I can’t offer you a new-fangled formula or super-cure and solution in life.

I’m not called to.

I’m called as the teaching-elder to lead you in the process of equipping a nurturing – building up the body of Christ in every way.

I rail against those who offer three easy steps in paper-back form.

I can only offer you a community where you can take some risks together – as we step by step get closer to the goal.

Under the headship of Bishop Jesus.

Amen.