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Sunday sermon 4 December 2016 – Prince of Peace

Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;

MESSAGE

I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?

Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.

Lent ends at the cross.

Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.

Advent ends at a crib.

This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!

We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.

On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.

And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.

Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.

People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.

The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.

My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.

The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.

The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.

So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –

  • as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
  • and the certainty of his second coming,  (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
  • what is really important?

For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.

Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.

A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:

  • Who He is.
  • His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
  • His coming in Christ.
  • His work in us.

THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR

There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And then this one from Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.

A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –

“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”

This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.

God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?

  • Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
  • Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
  • This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.

Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).

The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanityWe see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.

The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.

Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31  “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.

My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.

Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.

We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.

While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.

There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.

When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.

And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:

Rom 15:13  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope”  – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent blessings.

The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.

For today: receive His peace.

Amen.

god-of-ope

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Sunday sermon (Advent 2) 6 December 2015 – Is it well with your soul?

READINGS: 

Isaiah 9:1-7;   Philippians 4:4-7;   Luke 1:66-79

SERMON                                                              

Over the years we have had interesting people in our lives in the Presbyterian Church. Leaders were always fascinating. And occasionally they would visit you – especially when you lived 100km plus from the main centres.

I remember a brother Moderator coming along and sitting us down in the lounge and asking us this question:

“How are things with your soul?”

Great question. I think as a young couple with two small boys charging around, we were in a survival mode and hadn’t really thought about more than coping with the simple things of getting through the day. (And I knew him in a totally other capacity – it just sounded weird when he asked us that!)

  • What fed us spiritually? Who knows, when you are always giving out?
  • What feeds us spiritually?

That’s why going to New Wine each January is so important for us now as a couple, as were the renewal conferences we were part of back in South Africa. (And no – new wine is a Christian group supporting local churches and ministers without bottles of wine! It’s a different spirit if you like – although when we tell some of our friends who don’t know the biblical reference Jesus used about new wine, they are curious about what we actually do for four nights and days.)  (Click here to have a look at New Wine and the summer festivals)

  • What feeds us?
  • What feeds you?

This time of year is saturated – flooded with amazing food. I confess mince pies alone are dangerous enough to cause the collapse of a nation.

John the Baptiser was not big on fancy foods. His sustenance was found in a desert, and locusts and wild honey seemed to suffice.

Something else would have kept him going I suspect. He ministered in the desert, and clearly listened to God. There had been no prophetic voice for nearly 500 years.

We’ve talked before about these desert experiences – do you remember the message that included Mendelssohn’s “O for the wings of a dove?” It’s from Psalm 55: Psalm 55:6  I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest— Psalm 55:7  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah Psalm 55:8  I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”

I shared this quote with you about the voices we hear: But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ That’s the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us ‘my Beloved.’”  (Henri Nouwen).

We need to hear that voice. And we need our souls fed.

There are some amazing hymns in our tradition. And then there are exceptional ones. Guide me o Thou Great Jehovah/Redeemer is one.

“Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more!”

Our soul is fed by God’s word and His presence.

Didn’t Jesus say at his temptation (to the devil of course): “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3)

And the starting point is meeting Jesus – the Word of God in John 1 – the one who speaks by his life and words, and who is described prophetically by Isaiah in the prophecy read today in these words:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2).

Wonderful counsellor – what a comfort. Mighty God – how strong that sounds and is. Everlasting Father – contrast with human fathers who abandon us by jumping ship or dying too soon. Prince of Peace – is such a joy to hear.

If our souls are disquieted – troubled – deficient of anything – it is probably peace.

  • Sleepless nights (money, work, family, health – you name the cause)
  • Troubled days (wondering if we will have sleepless nights again)
  • Anxiety about being anxious (that vicious circle which feeds itself)
  • Plain unadulterated fear (fed in my case by nightmares and post-traumatic stress)

It’s all something that needs the prince of peace to park in the troubled zones of our minds, our hearts, our souls – out deepest recesses of darkness and sin.

As an aside – on that matter of sin – It’s interesting when people tell me they are perfect. Without sin. 1 John always comes to mind: 1 John 1:8  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

And then I wonder about this verse, when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery: John 8:7  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Would they then throw the first stone?

Of course John in chapter 1 of his first letter says this: 1 John 1:9 – 10:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The prayer of a little boy comes to mind: “Dear Lord, please forgive us our sins – those we have done, those we have not got around to doing, and those we haven’t yet thought up”.

Clearly he had an irritating sister or brother.

Sometimes we lack peace because people have sinned against us. Either way we get hurt because of the sinful nature of human beings. We need peace – healing and nurturing deep within our souls.

The absence of Peace – and the need to nurture our souls

Discussions about the soul are about the inner life. Our inner life – involving thoughts and emotions (minds and hearts if you like). And our souls. The word soul crops up a lot in Scripture.

In the Psalms the writer’s speak of their soul in these ways: A soul can be in anguish (6:3); it can be revived (19:7); it can be restored (23:3); it can grow weak with grief (34:2); It can rejoice in the Lord (35:9); it can be left forlorn 35:12); it can be poured out in worship (42:4); and often downcast (42:5,6,11; 43:5); It can be called to awaken (57:8); it can find rest in God (63:1,5)

In fact it’s worth looking at these verses from Psalm 62 and 63:

Psalm 62:1  For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David. My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.

Psalm 62:5  Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.

Psalm 63:1  A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:5  My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Psalm 63:8  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Today we sang: “Find rest my soul – in Christ alone – I will be still and know you are God!” It’s a great song.

The reading from Philippians is a timely reminder if you are lacking peace. And listening to the news on Friday about family violence over Christmas, how the shelters have to stay open because stress leads to domestic violence, it’s always a great passage:

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

Of course people facing violence can’t just depend on this peace – they also need safety and help. Thankfully there are people who can help us.

(Click here if you need help through the women’s refuge in New Zealand)

The point is that Christmas is not always an ideal time. There again, the first Christmas also had challenges.

Peace with God – a right relationship

Peace is achieved with God – in the realm of salvation through trusting in Jesus as our Lord and rescuer from sin. Romans 5:1 puts it like this in the NLT: Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

I take that as a given. We need to trust in Christ and find forgiveness and peace with God at that level.

Peace in the turmoil of life.

Peace in the turmoil of life comes when you hear God speak to you. Being well in our inner life – our souls – comes out of hearing his voice of assurance, of guidance, and of peace.

You can be forgiven if you sometimes doubt that God knows what he is doing when things are tough in your life. The Christmas characters had some serious challenges too.

There are secondary characters in the Christmas story that teach us about this kind of soul life – stability and peace through hearing God. Simeon the priest for one – waiting for the messiah – filled with the Spirit – knew he would not die until he saw the messiah. He’s led by the Spirit into the temple when Mary and joseph bring baby Jesus there. And listen to what he says:  “Sovereign Lord, now let Your servant die in peace, as You have promised. (Luke 2:29).

I wouldn’t mind that – knowing that I am exactly in God’s plan and when the day comes I can die in peace. Pretty cool hey? His prophecy is powerful. (Read verses 34-5 of Luke 2).

CLOSING THOUGHTS ABOUT JOHN’S MUM AND DAD

And this is John in the Bible. John the Baptiser. Like Mary and Joseph, spare a thought for the lack of peace in their lives. Cousin Mary and Joseph have to deal with politicians and their decisions and go to Bethlehem on a precarious four legged taxi (no Uber here for them) when she is about to pop.

Zachariah and Elizabeth had to deal with the curse of being barren – even though he was a faithful priest.

But its to chapter 1 in Luke where we have to go to see what happens when God speaks and we start our own ideas in response.

John’s father has an angelic visitation in the temple when on duty. He’s rostered on. Funny how the Levites came to our attention last week. This week it’s a priest again. And an angel appears and speaks to him.

He is terrified. The angel assures him. He doubts. (1:18) and gets this response: Luke 1:19  Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to bring you this good news! Luke 1:20  But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Oops. It’s taken up a notch. Gabriel reminds him that although he is a professional in God’s presence in the temple. Gabriel is not to be argued with – “ I stand in the very presence of God”. Stilte! (An Afrikaans word). He is silenced.

It helps us understand the passage we heard today – the power of Zachariah’s prophecy, seeing that he had been silenced for 9 months. The silence is lifted when this happens:

Luke 1:57  When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. Luke 1:58  And when her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. Luke 1:59  When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. Luke 1:60  But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” Luke 1:61  “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” Luke 1:62  So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. Luke 1:63  He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.”  Luke 1:64  Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God.

It’s amazing what silence does. He prophecies – after all that time of silence and clearly listening to God. He says this:

Luke 1:76  And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, Luke 1:77  to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, Luke 1:78  because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven Luk 1:79  to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

The King James version captures the beauty of the words of the man who had to be still for 9 months: Luke 1:78  Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, Luke 1:79  To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The dayspring is another word for the rising sun – Jesus. Zachariah’s prophecy is a perfect blend of Isaiah 9 which we heard as well today, and Malachi 4:2.

Isa 9:2  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Mal 4:2  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.

Ring any bells? The Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angel sing” by Charles Wesley – who didn’t make these songs up. It’s all from scripture:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Son  of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings;

Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Interestingly the “Sun of Righteousness” has often been changed to “Son of Righteousness” on the assumption perhaps that this is a spelling mistake. Malachi 4:2 speaks however of the sun, referring to the brightness of His glory perhaps (Hebrews 1:3) or His being the light of the world (John 8:12).

One writer put it like this: The sun which is righteousness, in whose wings, that is, rays, are healing and salvation. This Divine righteousness shall beam upon them that fear the Name of God, flooding them with joy and light, healing all wounds, removing all miseries, making them incalculably blessed. The Fathers generally apply the title of “Sun of Righteousness” to Christ, who is the Source of all justification and enlightenment and happiness, and who is called (Jeremiah 23:6), “The Lord our Righteousness.”

Wesley writes of the healing here in these words: “His beams shall bring health and strength, with delight and joy, safety and security.”

How are things with your soul today? May you find this healing and life, his warmth and peace.

May the prince of peace speak peace into your soul today.

Amen.

 

Easter reflection – the Jesus we present

Readings: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

 Act 4:32  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

Act 4:34  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales

Act 4:35  and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

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

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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.

Joh 20:23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Joh 20:24  Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

Joh 20:25  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

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!”

Joh 20:27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Joh 20:28  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Joh 20:29  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Joh 20:30  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.

Joh 20:31  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 MESSAGE

So we’re building loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus!

We saw a “Where’s Wally” puzzle this week. I’m glad I didn’t have to attempt it – or to find Wally!

Finding Jesus is an interesting idea. It assumes one of two things (or both I guess)

  • People are looking for Jesus
  • Jesus is lost!

Are people really on a search today? For fame maybe – or fortune. Money or meaning in life. Or meaning in money or mammon (the Bible’s term for worldly wealth) – the power of consumerism is still a major challenge. I suspect they are looking for something really – although many are not cognitively searching (using their minds) but rather surviving. Most families should not be vilified, though – they are working hard and providing for their children in an admirable way. Making ends meet, is the common term used.

The early church is sometimes set up as a model or paradigm for us today – on the assumption that there are enough similarities between people then and this generation to cause us to aim to be like the early church in every way.

Whether we aspire to be like the early church or not – we are very different. For example:

  • Few of us are Jewish (as in Acts 4)
  •  – verse 32 is challenging: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

We are not there yet. Put a bunch of Presbyterians together and it’s more like a fruit salad – often in the same bowl but not much agreement!

  • Few of us liquidate our assets and lay the funds at the feet of their spiritual leaders. There were no needs in the community because of this giving
  • Few of us can have this said of us: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.”

The story of Easter and the resurrection had clearly galvanised them into a powerful little group who were counter-cultural in a lot of ways. I think we are challenged by this passage from Acts – if we want community we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gospel reading today gives us a clue about how people connect to Jesus and Jesus to people. There are two things that spoke to me as I read this passage again:

  1. Jesus offered peace to the people he encountered. As the Prince of peace that makes sense. I’m not sure that we reflect that – we are often like people on the warpath with our opinions and views.

 Jesus declares “peace be with you” and shows them his hands and side. Why? He’s pointing them to the reality of the resurrection.  It was to this startling fact that the early church in the book of Acts pointed too. Listen again to what we heard:

Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all

  1. Jesus offered a personal relationship to those who struggled to believe. Like Thomas – who unfortunately is remembered as “doubting Thomas” rather than “Honest Thomas”.

 So what was Thomas battling with? The resurrection I should think. He wanted evidence – he wanted to see for himself and touch those wounds.

 Thomas wasn’t there the first time. A week later Jesus does one of those Houdini acts – not escaping from a locked room but getting into one again. And he speaks to Thomas:

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

 Even the men on the A team had things they had to work through!

 I wonder if it’s too big a step to take to say that Jesus still wants to speak peaceinto our lives and to speak to our individual needs and doubts – and our fears.

 We may well be in some locked rooms too – and we may be surprised that Jesus might want to join us and engage us in a conversation. Make a connection.

 I don’t think faith comes easily for some people. It’s possible that more of us are like Thomas than we are honest enough to admit.

 So we hide our thoughts and feelings – afraid of our own authorities – our leaders perhaps who we think will pounce on us if we are uncertain – or at least if we don’t exhibit their great faith.

That’s why it’s really important that we don’t preach at each other – forcing our particular way of seeing things on others.

There’s nothing more discouraging than a simplistic “well if you would only obey Jesus – He will sort it all out and everything will be fine”.

 “Trust and obey” is a lot easier to sing than to do when things are tough.

 If I was going to sing a song in times of trouble – I would rather see Jesus as a “bridge over troubled waters” or I would prefer “what a friend we have in Jesus” praying – “bear my griefs Lord”.  Or I would sing “Still” which is one of my favourites right now:

 Hide me now

Under Your wings
Cover me
Within Your mighty hand

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

Find rest my soul
In Christ alone
Know His power
In quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father You are king over the flood
I will be still and know You are God

 The Jesus we present to the world – and the Jesus that should be seen in our communities (and I am thinking of small groups mostly where community really works (Someone once said there is no such thing as a congregation – it’s just a collection of small groups) – the Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who causes there to be no needs – where people liquidate assets to make sure others have what they need – because of compassion and kindness and sacrificial living – and of course the clear idea from His teaching that treasure on earth is not the main thing – rather eternal treasure in heaven!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus therefore that makes it possible for our communities to be truly loving – honest – sorting out things – caring enough to face the truths of our messy lives in a safe place. How do you think they managed to get to that place where there were no needs among them? Simple – they talked about their needs! SO different from us who put our private use of money in a “private” basket.  Funny thing is that Jesus spoke of what we do with our money a lot!

 The Jesus we present and should see:

 IS the Jesus who shows up in the rooms we try to hide in and says PEACE BE WITH YOU. You can’t really open your life to this peace unless you acknowledge the storm! The moment people say to me (of something really messy) – Ah it’s all sorted – then I know they’re probably hiding it away – that pride is probably winning the war!

The Jesus we present and should see:

  • IS the Jesus who knows exactly what your doubts and fears are and will meet you at your point of need.
  • IS the Jesus who is so fascinating and attractive – so intriguing and so loving – that people will be drawn to Him when they see Him in us!

 What an enormous challenge! Are we remotely like Jesus?

 Are you? Do want to be? Is it worth the cost?

 And is the Jesus we present this Jesus? Or some other kind of person cut out from a few verses of the Bible?

 What amazing love – what sacrifice – the Son – the One Son of God – given for me! Taking my deepest pains and fears and anxieties to himself!

 So that I can be free!

 When we break the bread today – when you take some bread – if you dare to take it – you may well be taking the risk of becoming like that body – broken!

This Lord of all says he calls us friends.

The Creator of all becomes a servant – and calls us to serve too.

This greatest Lover of the world – calls us to love others too – no matter what we think about their theology or worship – their faith or lack of faith – their beliefs or their doubts.

When they find and follow Jesus – the most amazing things can happen.

 When we find this Jesus – and discover what He is really like – and follow Him – who knows how exciting that can be!

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

Joh 20:20  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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

(Republished from 15 April 2012)

Sunday 8 December 2013 (Advent 2) – A root, a shoot from Jesse

Readings:  Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

Message

So who is this Jesus?

Let’s clear the matter up today!

1.       Descendent of Jesse

The root of Jesse is a fascinating image. I asked a friend in America to sketch it for me – that picture from Isaiah 11:1. This is what she came up with: (Credit – she used the ornament from a book called “The greatest gift” by Ann Voskamp).

Stump

Jesse – was the father of David and his brothers, whom the prophet Samuel came to – to choose a King for Israel. You may remember the day – all the sons of Jessie were paraded before the prophet – but the real King was off the page. David was not even there – almost forgotten, or ignored. He was looking after sheep.

The descendant of Jesse – David – the youngest brother missed in the selection process – became this great King – enigmatic, vulnerable, tempted, courageous and brave. A man after God’s own heart.

Listen again: Isa 11:1  A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2.       A Son of David filled with and directed by the Spirit

Isaiah goes on: Isaiah 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—

Jesus was exactly that – this amazing man who was God – and became a vulnerable man tempted in every way life David and like us, except without sin – this Jesus was empowered by the Spirit of God from His baptism. (Matthew 4:1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.)

As should we. We can’t be like him or bring in His Kingdom that we are told to seek – without the Spirit’s power!

In fact Matthew in chapter 12 gives us this amazing account, which we sometimes forget:

 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.

All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (22-28)

It was by the Spirit of God that this Son of David took on the powers of darkness – withstood the devil’s temptations in the wilderness – and fulfilled His mission.

3.       This Son of Jesse and Son of David is the Son of God who lives out of that relationship

Isa 11:3  and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; Isa 11:4  but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Isa 11:5  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist

There is a familiar feel about this too. This Jesus (son of Jessie, son of David, led by the spirit) manifests the qualities that we associate with God – righteousness and justice, and judgment). And He has an ear towards heaven.

Remember Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel:

Joh 5:30  By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

Joh_8:16  But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.

And especially this passage: Joh 12:48  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. Joh 12:49  For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.

And this: Joh 14:10  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Joh 14:11  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

4.        The root of Jesse, the Son of David filled and directed by the Spirit, The Son of God living out of a relationship with the Father, brings peace.

Isaiah goes on to prophecy: Isa 11:5  Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. Isa 11:6  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. Isa 11:7  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Isa 11:8  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.

If hope does not galvanise you – then perhaps peace will:

One writer (Pastor Vince Gerhardy) put it well in these words: The lamb is normally lunch for the lion. Likewise, the goat is a snack for the leopard. Animals that don’t normally get on – eat together and rest side by side in peace. And what is more “a child will lead them”. Animals that we would hardly describe as suitable pets for a child – wolves, leopards, lions and snakes are play mates for a little child.

This vision of peace is remarkable.

It’s the impossible. I have to say that having heard of the death of President Nelson Mandela on Friday morning – I began to think about what was clearly the impossible in the country of my birth – the possibility of people sitting together and not killing each other was remote –  a dream – peace which like faith was the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.

South Africans have begun ten days of mourning – and so they should. Mandela will always be an icon of reconciliation and peace. And he’s just a man!

Jesus – on the other hand – is THE prince of Peace!

This prophetic vision is summed up in the most beautiful poetic line: Isa 11:9  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Like the hope we shared about last week being vested in and found in Zion – out of which came His powerful word – reminding us that our relationship with God is the source of all we need – that worship is at the heart of all we are – here Isaiah points to the holy mountain of God.

And then this line:  for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

And finally: Isa 11:10  In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

Paul picks up on this in his letter to the Romans,  in the context of the need for a spirit of unity and mutual acceptance in the church and a discussion of the Gentiles: Rom 15:12  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”  The ”nations” In Isaiah 11:10 are the GOYIM – the unbelieving non-Jews or Gentiles.

5.      This root of Jesse, Son of David, Son of God empowered by the Spirit – who brings peace in impossible situations – unites all God’s people under a banner – a common name and heritage – followers of Jesus!

This is what this season is about – Advent is about preparing  for this most amazing arrival!

Handing out invites to the Christmas services yesterday was an interesting thing. The invitation had the services of four churches listed – a great sign of unity. But looking into the faces of those receiving the invites – this city of ours with every nation right here – Jesus will stand as a banner for all peoples – he did already!

On the cross! He said: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32  LOOK AT THE IMAGE AGAIN:

Stump

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10-11).

They choose to now. In time they most certainly will bow before him.

Amen.