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Sunday message 4 June 2017 – 7 things about Pentecost

READINGS AT FAMILY SERVICE: Acts 2:1-4; Galatians 4:6-7; 5:16-26

LISTEN AGAIN to  the Acts reading from the LIVING BIBLE today:

Act 2:1  Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, Act 2:2  suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Act 2:3  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. Act 2:4  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. 

Here are 7 things about Pentecost worth mentioning today:

1. IT WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF CHURCH – yes – it was a serious launch of 3000 people believing and being baptized. Big by any standards. Jerusalem may have had 20, 30 or 40 000 people living there and up to 80 000 during the festivals

2. IT  WAS A JEWISH FEAST – 50 DAYS AFTER PASSOVER (7 weeks = 49). Shavuot was the feast of weeks (see Leviticus 23:16) – which started as a harvest festival (which we were planning by the way) and after the destruction of the temple became a celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. (“Pentecost” is from the Greek). Jesus of course fulfils both these aspects of the original festivals as he brings in a new harvest, AND is the new lawgiver bring in the law of love.

3. The Spirit came on all on that day – as promised – and the church was born by the Spirit’s power. Before that the Spirit came upon prophets, priests, kings, judges and certain artists. Now all would receive.

The prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament was fulfilled: Joel 2:28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Joel 2:29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

We looked at John 3 in the children’s talk– about the spiritual rebirth.  In John 3:3 the word for “again” means “from above” – meaning born of God.

The birthday of the church is not just about the numbers –  the 3000. It’s about the new birth in each and every one of us as individuals: Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

And we heard this read for us from Galatians 4: Gal 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

4. OUR CONFESSION OF JESUS AS LORD – is because of the work of the holy Spirit.

Paul says in 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.

The same passage in the LIVING BIBLE:  1Co_12:3 But now you are meeting people who claim to speak messages from the Spirit of God. How can you know whether they are really inspired by God or whether they are fakes? Here is the test: no one speaking by the power of the Spirit of God can curse Jesus, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it, unless the Holy Spirit is helping him.

5. THEY WERE EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit. That was the promise of Jesus before his Ascension: Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Power to witness – with boldness – is seen throughout the book of Acts. We’ve looked at this in the life of Stephen, Philip, and Peter and John in particular.

With this came signs, wonders, miracles, healings, tongues, prophecy and more – 1 Corinthians 12 lists the “spirituals” – the spiritual gifts. I recommend Bill Johnson’s books in our library and the Auckland library to discover more about this. The gifts of the Spirit were to bless others – and ultimately bring them to Jesus and set them free from the powers of darkness. And they still are.

We should use them  – that’s why they were given!

6. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT CHANGED THEIR CHARACTER

The fruit of the Spirit is the most well-known of His works. Listen again to Galatians 5:  Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23 gentleness and self-control.

This is not the soft option or Christianity light. The fruit doesn’t come without a cost.

Jesus dies for our sins – you heard the list of bad things before these nice fruits. And after Galatians 5:23 there is the small matter of verse 24:

Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Or as the Living Bible puts it: Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires to his cross and crucified them there.

7. HERE’S THE CHALLENGE TO END WITH TODAY:  Gal 5:25 If we are living now by the Holy Spirit’s power, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Gal 5:26 Then we won’t need to look for honors and popularity, which lead to jealousy and hard feelings.

PENTECOST IS EVERYTHING TO US – BECAUSE THERE IS NO CHRISTIAN LIFE WITHOUT THE SPIRIT.  And we are to be led by the Spirit!

We give thanks to God His Spirit and for these amazing gifts.  Let’s appropriate them fully.

Amen.

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Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11;  Acts 4:1-14;  John 17:1-3

MESSAGE

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?

It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.

Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. 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.

We’re not good at that really. The waiting.

And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.

Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

How do we get that message across?

When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.

And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:

ascension RCOMICL

Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:

ascension

Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.

The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.

I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy.  (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).

The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?

If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:

Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.

Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.

And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –

To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?

Tourism.

It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy –  you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!

Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.

Other trajectories.

And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.

  • The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
  • The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.

glasses art in gallery

On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?

Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit 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.”

The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.

  • The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).

  • The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home

Well do you trust in Him alone?

Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:

http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/6828/Palmer_Robin_Ernest_1987.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

Sunday sermon 9 October 2016: The Lord’s Prayer part 8 – Kingdom, Power and Glory, forever!

Readings: 1 Chronicles 29:6-13; Psalm 63:1-4; Matthew 6:6-13 (including footnote in NIV).

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

SERMON

So we’ve reached the end of this series on the Lord’s Prayer. We’re still saying it together. I wonder if these reflections have made any difference to you? As you pray?

Just a question – how many of you heard the whole series? All seven plus today? Well done!

Anyone read the ones you missed on the  bbpsermons  website? Well done too!

Some highlights as we look back. The line that I enjoyed the most quoted from Tim Keller was this one. It’s about who we pray to. You may remember this. It was part 2 – Hallowed by thy name.

  • His fatherliness makes his heavenliness non-intimidating.
  • His heavenliness makes his fatherliness not just comforting but absolutely liberating – he is all powerful to keep his promises. Amen!

In that same week I said this:

And so we are to “hallow” God’s name – to honour and revere it.  It’s really about adoration and praise. To honour his name is to give him the credit for who he is and what he has done. To focus on God rather than all other things.

Here’s the test question: What preoccupies you when you are in thought – wrestling with the things of life? 

Tim Keller suggests this: what is always on your mind – that’s usually what you adore – what you love the most.

Today we pick this up in a sense – as we look at the doxology at the end of the prayer:

For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.(v13) 

We’ve looked at the kingdom, and the power.

It’s the glory that jumps out from the page for me. Yours is the glory!

David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 came to mind as soon as I looked at this again. David had just done what many people have done here, and can still do. He provided for the next generation through a bequest. Not only does he dedicate the nation’s wealth for his son Solomon to use in the building of the temple when he is gone – he also gives his personal wealth for the project. He gives it while still alive.

1Ch 29:3  Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God:

That’s the context of the other giving of the leaders – and his beautiful prayer.

It struck me that we might not be here were it not for bequests from previous generations. And we have the same choice to leave something for the work here at Browns Bay when we die. That’s by the way. It has to be said. Have you made some provision for the future of the work here when you have gone?

Look how David’s giving releases giving on behalf of all the people.

1Ch 29:6  Then the leaders of ancestral houses made their freewill offerings, as did also the leaders of the tribes, the commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds, and the officers over the king’s work. 1Ch 29:7  They gave for the service of the house of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand talents of iron. 1Ch 29:8  Whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the LORD, into the care of Jehiel the Gershonite.  1Ch 29:9  Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with single mind they had offered freely to the LORD; King David also rejoiced greatly.

And then David prays:

1Ch 29:11  Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1Ch 29:12  Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.

1Ch 29:13  And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.

I reckon we could use this as an offering prayer. In fact, I remember Durban North Presbyterian singing this during the offering back in the 1970s.

In the reading from the Psalms today the same pattern comes up:

Psa 63:2  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Psa 63:3  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psa 63:4  So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

Three words. In David’s prayers. And the one we have in Matthew in the Lord’s Prayer.

Kingdom. – we know this. That’s what we are to seek first.

Power. –  this helps us in our praying. This father has the power to provide for his children.

Glory. – this is new. We don’t talk much about the glory of God.

  • Do we understand this concept?
  • Do we seek to give him glory?
  • The glory is his. Is this something we can give him? Or is this also something we should seek?
  • Let’s explore this word. It has different facets to it.

 

SO ABOUT GLORY – FIRSTLY.

The Old Testament word is Kabhod.

You may recognise the word in the name of an unfortunate character named Ichabod – in 1 Samuel. That’s a tale in itself. He was the grandson of Eli – when the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines and Eli’s rebellious sons Hophni and Phineas are killed. Eli hears the bad news and falls of his chair in shock, breaking his neck. Phineas’ wife goes into labour and Ichabod is born. His mother names his this because “the glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam 4:21-22.)

God’s glory – kabhod – was his presence. The word also means “heavy”.

You get the sense of the weight of his presence. We seek his glory when we seek his presence.

When Solomon’s temple is built later, he prays that God will make his presence real (2 Chronicles 6:41-42). In the next verse 2 Chronicles 7:1 we read:

2Ch 7:1  When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 2Ch 7:2  The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. 2Ch 7:3  When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”

There are moments in worship for us too, when we are aware of his presence, there’s a weight on us, the presence of his glory.

 

SECONDLY

Glory – in the new Testament – is the word DOXA from which we get the word “doxology” – a short declaration of praise.

The word also means splendour or brightness. So we get for example in Hebrews 1 this powerful statement:

Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

  • Heb 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Heb 1:3  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

And of course that well known John 1:14 – the culminating verse of the prologue to John’s gospel:

  • Joh 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth

I was saying at tea last week that when we see Jesus we are unlikely to come up with the questions we say we’d like to ask him. Like “why did you let me get this disease?” I think we will be silent and prostrate on the ground like John in Revelation 1:

  • Rev 1:14  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  Rev 1:15  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. Rev 1:16  In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brillianceRev 1:17  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 

There’s some glory there – splendour and brightness. His presence.

There’s something about worship that is often not understood. We’ve talked about it before – and in this series – about entering the presence of the King. A Holy God.

When his glory is revealed – that heaviness of his presence, and his splendour and brightness – we stop nattering and yapping to each other – the focus is on God. And often we are silent.

The prophet Habakkuk says this in the context of the people’s worship of idols: Hab 2:20  But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

His glory involves his presence and his splendour. And it can silence us when we are in awe of who He is.

 

THIRDLY we give Him glory in worship – in the songs we sing, and the prayers we  pray. We also give Him glory when we we do all these things we have looked at in the last couple of months:

We give Him glory when we live by the tenets of this prayer template called the Lord’s Prayer.

  • We hallow his name – honour his name.
  • Pray for his kingdom as a priority (elsewhere Jesus says “Seek first the Kingdom of God”.)
  • Do his will – bringing heaven to earth.
  • Trust him for our daily needs – one day at a time.
  • Forgive like him – celebrating our forgiveness.
  • Ask for his protection from trials and freedom and deliverance from the evil one.
  • Because it’s His Kingdom that matters, his power that makes it possible for us to do this, and his name which receives the glory. Not us. It’s never about us.

Two weeks ago we listen to a song entitled “Hidden”. I gave you the words.

We’ll get to sing it at some point. The last part of the song captures some of this. Listen again:

Verse 3

The sun, moon and stars, Shout Your name, they give you reverence; And I, will do the same, With all my heart I give You glory  |2x|

 Chorus 3

I want to seek You first, I want to love You more; I want to give You the honour You deserve; So I’ll bow before You, I am overcome, By the beauty of this perfect love. |2x|

Are we seeking him first? Loving him more? Giving him the honour he deserves? I encourage you to explore a more intimate relationship with God. And entering into worship with all your heart is part of that.

  • Be open. The songs we sing – sing them with all your heart. Both here and on your own. Listen to them at home.
  • Focus on God – seek his presence and the fullness of his Spirit.
  • Seek his glory both here and in your wider life.

Draw near to him and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

Let’s pray David’s prayer as we close:

1Ch 29:11  Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 1Ch 29:12  Riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 1Ch 29:13  And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.

Amen

 

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

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

I was quite intrigued and moved all at once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s in a name then?

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

Most keep their names.

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

“Christian”

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

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

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (new creation)

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

John 3 (born of God – from above)

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

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

Ephesians (old self are replaced with new self)

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

THESE ARE KEY QUESTIONS AT HIS EASTER TIME:

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

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

  1. We receive His peace. (PEACE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joh _20:19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

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

Joh_20:26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

  1. He gives us his Spirit (POWER)

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

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

Joh 20:21  Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Joh 20:22  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. He sends us out (PURPOSE)

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

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

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

The thing is – we are all sent.

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

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

Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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

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

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

Fortunately, we have a wonderfully merciful and loving God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we not be changed?

Amen.

10 March 2015 Tuesday Church – For all nations…

Reading: Mark 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Message – Easter

Easter is just around the corner. It’s been closer than you think for some months – considering how early Easter eggs appear on the shelves in our shops.

In the story as Mark tells it, Jesus had come into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and had gone out again to Bethany. The next day he comes back into the city – it’s a kind of sortie into a dangerous place really. The authorities would be aware of him – considering all the fuss when he road into the city on a donkey. And now he comes to the heart of the nation – the temple. Well listen again:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

We sometimes think it’s just about the money – that they were cheating the poor when they sold animals for sacrifices to them – or exchanging money and giving them a bad rate.

The thing is – He wasn’t really changing the system – the trading would have carried on the next day.

The real challenge was to the heart of the nation. Listen again:

17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

The real issue was that God was not stuck in the temple and fussing over them alone as the chosen people. Even Solomon when he built his temple said this: 1 Kings 8:27  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! That was on the day of the consecration of the temple!

It was more the teaching that stirred up the opposition. It was a threat. The house of prayer “for all nations” sounds like a real concern for others outside of the family of Israel. And it wasn’t just about the money tables, as if you can separate money from spiritual things.

The chief priests and teachers of the law begin looking for ways to kill him – because they feared him. They didn’t want the crowd to follow him because they would lose control. It was all about power.

How strange that they “feared him” – this man of compassion and love who healed the sick and taught them about God as Father.

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy of course. Tom Wright says this about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple:

But Jesus’ protest was far deeper, and if we applied it today it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the lawcourts and legislative assemblies, the royal palaces and banking centres, the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outwards in generosity towards the world. That’s where Jesus wants to stride today, to turn over tables and drive out traders. *

Amen.

* Wright, N. T. (2004-01-01). Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 153). Westminster John Knox Press. 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 1 June 2014 – time waiting on God

nectamen

Readings:  Acts 1:6-14: 1 Peter 4:12 – 14;  5:6-11:  John 17:1-11:

MESSAGE: TIME WAITING ON GOD 

This is a challenging day. It’s the 1st of June. That in itself is not remarkable.

But it is that one Sunday – symbolically – when we are in-between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

As if we were in the upper room.

The in-between times of life are challenging generally.

The times between being a member and citizen of one country and having full rights and acceptance in another.

Immigrants know all about this. The in-between – ness of it all. Being born in one country and growing up in another can make you uncertain – betwixt and between as the English idiom says.

The times waiting in other horrid situations.

  • Between the ward and the hospital theatre.
  • Between life and death when the end comes.
  • Between a death and a funeral – for a family
  • Between jobs – for the unemployed.
  • Between doctors with half-suspected diagnoses – wanting yet not wanting the truth because of what it many mean for our lives.
  • Between homes – knowing we have to move out and down size – and not really knowing where we will land up.

You may know some of these times. As a church you will know this.

  • In a church – between ministers (the so-called vacancy)
  • In a church – between Session Clerk’s and Administrators. We seem to be in between them all at the moment.
  • In-between leaders in mainly music and messy church – no one stepping up. And mission support. And in time pastoral concerns.

These things can make you insecure. Scared. Uncertain. Worried. Vulnerable. Especially if you’re in my shoes – when you’re the minister.

They are times of waiting – and especially waiting on the Lord. What do you want us to do Lord?

We’re not good at that really. Even our “best at prayer” (Presbyterians – anagram) rush in with their requests each week in our prayer meetings – asking God to bless our busy lives and our many activities. And we sit a little worried by the silence – and tend to want to scurry off and do something practical.

When he calls us to be still and wait.

Not enough waiting. Not enough surrender.

I asked more than a year ago – in the context of our leadership (probably two years ago) whether we would be prepared to stop it all – and only do the things we really knew we should.

I don’t think anyone took me too seriously. And now we may have to let some of them go.

And now we have to seriously ask Him what we should do – and some things may end. We can’t do it all – we don’t have the resources – financial or people.

And the test is probably whether the things are getting the good news to people who need to hear it! Whether they are part of the great commission.

Well on this symbolic Sunday between the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit – almost a vacuum in history – let’s think about waiting on God some more.

Those disciples waited – and then the power came.

It was never their power of course – it was Jesus’ power (we sang that old song again – all power is given in Jesus’ name – and in Jesus’ name I come to you to share his power as he told me to – He said freely freely).

And so in the reading from Acts we heard today:

Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to trust.

But in the in-between times – in the age in which we live between his ascension and his return – we are empowered to witness.

Not complicated. It’s not all about us! It’s about the mission we have.

Luke tells us after he left them – this is what happened in Jerusalem:

Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

The lines we heard from the last chapters of 1 Peter – were written to a church that was waiting desperately for His return – as they were persecuted and suffering.

They are exhorted to stand firm in their suffering – to rejoice when suffering for doing good.

And to be discerning:

1Pe 5:8  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1Pe 5:9  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Of course the favourite passage is this one:

1Pe 5:6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We listened to Simon Ponsonby again this week in home group – speaking about desert or wilderness experiences.

He starts with Jesus being led by the spirit into the desert to be tempted by the desert in Matthew 4. And of course we too have those desert times too.

In fact he quotes Selwyn Hughes who lists a number of experiences in life where we as Christians are tested: failure, suffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

God allows these things because they are good for us – they make us really wait on him and depend on him – so that we don’t become self-sufficient.

On Ascension Day we stopped to say – you Lord Jesus are the Head of the church! And we are your body!

How scary that you should want to use us!

We’re so helpless and weak really. Vulnerable. And that is probably where we are meant to be.

So when we come to the Gospel reading today – we are still in the zone of suspension.

Left hanging.

It’s not an easy passage.

There is some clarity again about His authority:

Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.

There is one clear-ish Johannine verse that I like to quote:

Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

The passage – the prayer – goes on and is not easy to fathom.

But the simple bits jump out:

Joh 17:9  I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 

And then another glimpse pf hope and encouragement:

Joh 17:11  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. 

What a huge relief – that the Father has given us to the Son – and that he prays for us.

He recognises we are still in this messed-up and complicated world.

Thankfully he prays that the Father will protect us by the power of His name!

What is the name that the Father gave Jesus – by which we are protected?? I’m not entirely sure what this means. Probably simply this: “I am who I am” – the name given to Moses at the burning bush, which by the way is still the principle logo of the Presbyterian Church – born in the fires of persecution – NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR –  burned but not consumed. Our all sufficient One! Jesus was certainly comfortable using the “I am” part in in his various “I am” sayings.

Why should God protect us?

So that we may be one!

Why?

Because that’s how people will know that we are Jesus’ people.

As you read the rest of John 17 – twice more he prays for our unity.

Why?

Because it’s when we are united – sometimes with our backs to the wall – that we are the most effective witnesses.

It’s a testimony that we can actually be one – because the odds are stacked against us as human beings. Our default settings are I, me mine and myself. Narcissistic obsession – loving ourselves. Our default settings include a propensity to war and violence.

We’re so judgemental of the terrible things people do – especially when people are murdered in our safe little country – forgetting that we all have the same capacity. We are not just children of Adam. We are related to Cain who killed his own brother out of anger and jealousy – in a quarrel about what? Offerings! Religious matters!

When we’re in the in-between times – vulnerable and uncertain – we all too easily lash out, blame, and seek some reason outside of ourselves. When it fact both blame and sin crouch at our own door.

So what’s to be done?

  • Wait.
  • Watch and pray.
  • Seek his face.

Crying out to him in our desperation – that’s what he wants.

He wants to take away our self-sufficiency.

And he sometimes does that pre-eminently – through failure. It could besuffering, humiliation, bereavement, estrangement, doubt and dereliction.

But most commonly its failure.

  • Failure is followed by repentance
  • Repentance has with it new faith and absolute trust
  • And when we walk with a limp forever after that –as Simon Ponsonby rightly says – we limp so that we can’t run ahead of God on the journey.

Wait on him – let him reduce me and you to barely nothing – so that he can be everything.

It’s okay.

It’s not for any other reason than that He allows it to happen for our long term good. And for His glory!

At the end of the day – our FAITHFULNESS is tested more than anything else. Not unlike Job – who says: “though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15 KJV).

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 22 September – That they may be one

Sunday 22 September                                   I pray that all of them, Father, may be one (John 17:20-21)

I wonder if you’ve heard someone praying for you.

Sometimes we have this privilege of being prayed for – I had that over the last two days at Warkworth Pressie at New Wine facilitated days of ministry.

Your ears prick up – as someone prays for you – especially as they are led by the Holy Spirit – it’s a powerful experience. It’s always more interesting when they don’t know you – how the Holy Spirit guides them to pray precisely for your needs.

Imagine the disciples – and Jesus is praying his great high priestly prayer – for us – those who will yet believe – even us thousands of years later. I mean someone must have heard the prayer– at least John his closest friend who wrote it down in the 4th gospel.

How much more interesting would it be to hear Jesus pray for us today! Well we can! In John 17. Guess what he prays a couple of times? – that we may be one.

Yes he prays for other things – like verse 15:

Joh 17:15  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

But unity features a few times – earlier in verse 11 and twice in the passage we read.

(v 11 … protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.)

Imagine Jesus – in his prayer time for our unity – praying Psalm 133. It’s a logical thing really. The Psalms were their book of prayers and hymns.

You can pray a hymn can you not? We sang one last week:  Love divine all loves excelling – fix in us thy humble dwelling!

Well do you want God’s love to live in you? If you do things will be different, don’t you think?

I would like us to imagine Jesus praying with this Psalm in mind. It would have sounded like this:

Hine matov u-ma na-im – shevet achim gam yachad.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren (brothers) to dwell together (to be one!).

The Psalmist simply puts it out there – HOW GOOD AND HOW PLEASANT IT IS when brothers dwell in unity.

He uses two similes (remember – like or as figures of speech!)

Unity is like this – two liquids.

1. The picture in Psalm 133 is of the anointing oil of the Old Testament (Exodus 33:22-25 will tell you how to make this stuff. Myrrh, Cinnamon, fragrant cane and olive oil! Fascinating mixture). It was poured on the head of Aaron (read Leviticus 8:12 for that story).

I was very keen to demonstrate this today – with some cooking oil. There wasn’t anyone with a long enough beard apparently.

Picture the idea of pouring  a large bowl of oil over someone – to get the picture of the influence of the power of unity – which comes out of love.

It soaks in – and runs everywhere – it runs deep into every corner of our being and life.

Imagine Jesus praying for us with this in mind!

2. The other image – of the dew of Hermon – is a refreshing picture.

Both are pictures of the pervasive influence of a liquid.

You know how it works – you spill a glass of water next to your bed and you know it will land in your slippers.

Or the coffee will seep into your computer keyboard – however quick you are.

The beauty of the Psalm is that it is almost as good as a kiwi Psalm. I don’t know if you’ve been watching this Americas Cup sailing story. This kiwi skipper – is the master of understatement. Like the Canadian who led the retreat we were on – and who taught over the last two days.

Understatement is a very effective tool in communication.

Like its opposite we encountered recently – HYPERBOLE – when we talked about Jesus’ directive to hate our family in order to love Him and His Kingdom with the right amount of passion.

Listen to this again:

Psa 133:3  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

(For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.)

But wait a minute Mr Psalmist.

The dew of Hermon – Mount Zion.

These two mountains were some hundred miles apart.

The one was far north and a common or secular mountain that experienced a lot of dew. It was also the catchment area of the Jordan river – a source of life for the whole land.

Zion is the mountain outside Jerusalem – a holy place. Dew would fall on that mountain too.

There is a hint – in the understatement – that unity is such a powerful thing .

The first simile is more direct in its sense of abundance of the oil of anointing being poured out:

It is like oil that keeps flowing from God to man – the Aaronic priesthood was the link between God and people – and the blessing came through them – did it not – in Numbers 6:

Num 6:22  The LORD said to Moses,

Num 6:23  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

Num 6:24  “‘”The LORD bless you and keep you;

Num 6:25  the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

Num 6:26  the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”‘

The dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion – hints at such a huge and abundant flow of water that it somehow connects these two mountains so far apart – is a huge stretch of the imagination.

Is this even possible?

Well that is what unity is – a powerful miracle – something that comes from God.

And of course the oil reminds us of the Holy Spirit who works in us  – remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 about the unity of the Body – speaking of the church:

1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Jesus prays for this unity.

It’s not structural or organisational. It’s organic and relational.

The Gospel reading today weaves the threads through which this unity is found – by which we are knitted together:

20 ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus would have known that this would be good and pleasant – a delight to God – something worth praying for.

I have given them the glory that you gave me (verse 22) – that they may be one as we are one. Something is afoot here – what does that mean?

He gives his disciples the glory that God gave Him? Remember this is John’s gospel – go back to John 1:14:

Joh 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here’s the answer: John writes  that they had seen his glory – the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth.

Surely people are to see the glory of Jesus in us too? Full of grace and truth! Stretch you? Not really. Why does Jesus pray for our unity?

V21 – that the world will believe God sent him.

V223 – that the world would know God sent him.

In fact verse 23 of John 17 says this:

… so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is all about a revelation of the love of God to the world.

This is about our witness.

This is about sharing good news!

God loves them (the world) as much as He loves Jesus – his beloved Son.

We are sons of God too – showing forth his love.

Dabble a bit in John’s letters and this is abundantly plain. It is in fact all about the love of God. John 3:16 is at the heart of it all.

May we be one and show the world the power of Jesus’ love!

Amen,