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23 September 2018 – Sunday message:Servants of all

Readings: James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a;  Mark 9:30-35

MESSAGE:

It’s been great visiting churches through my study leave. They’re all so different.

They all had a Presbyterian familiarity really. Not just because we knew some of the people. But because there are certain things that remind you of what Presbys do. And staying for tea and eating something and talking a lot together is one obvious one.

A talk on the predictors of long life I watched recently had two interesting things at the top of the list for the people studied who lived for a long long time. 100 or beyond. These things reduced their chances of dying the most, the research indicated.

  • Second to the top was close relationships.
  • Right at the top was social integration. Interestingly enough.

You may be thrilled to hear that exercise was number 7. Diet was lower. Quitting smoking and drinking a little higher, I hasten to add.

They explained the top two like this:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.
  • SOCIAL INTEGRATION. How many people you interact with every day – good and bad people. People you know well or not. Weak and strong bonds. The postman. The person who makes the tea at work, or cleans the office. The stranger. Being connected with people. As opposed to being lonely and isolated. And greeting them and including them in your day.

They were the top indicators of how long the people lived in the study.

See it pays to join the pastoral care group. And just to be friendly and sociable.

The Christian life is like a diamond with many facets. Its described in many ways. Some people emphasise the intimacy we have with God – especially in communion. It matters a lot to them. Others are passionate about the cross – and what Jesus is done – how we are completely saved by faith through grace. Luther would applaud that. He didn’t like the book of James which we heard from today because James wanted to see proof in works – in good deeds.

Some love worship more than anything else. If the music is off, they feel robbed. They love to sing and celebrate. Others are more the thinking types – they like to debate about ideas about God – we call that theology. They read piles of books. Their faith would be less than meaningful without library membership. Some are totally consumed with Bible knowledge. They’re like walking encyclopedias when it comes to scripture.

For some people fellowship is everything. You hear them talking excitedly and loudly on a Sunday morning. They love morning tea – and lots of coffee and conversations. And having fun together. Others are big on prayer – and would prefer the rowdy ones to tone it down on Sundays when they are praying before the service.

All these things are part of our rich Christian experience. They all matter.

What isn’t helpful is when we make our preference the main thing on the agenda at the expense of others.

So – Jesus’ teaching today is really important.

The disciples were not fighting about ideas or preferences. People do of course.

On this occasion they were arguing about who was the greatest. About power!

Peter had been elevated to leadership when he recognized Jesus as the Christ. He was the rock (in Mark 8) on which Jesus would build the church. He rocked – or so he thought until he tried to stand in the way of God’s plan – and was demoted with a new title “Satan”.

Peter, James and John had been up the mountain of transfiguration and had seen a vision of Moses and Elijah, and Jesus transformed. They were the inner circle. Peter got things wrong up there too. He wanted to built tents and stay up there.

When they came down the mountain they found the other nine in an argument with the teachers of the law over a failed prayer for a boy with an unclean spirit.

Jesus is a bit impatient with them on this one too. He says:

Mar 9:19  “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So it’s not surprising that in the reading today they are having a disagreement.

Listen again: Mar 9:33  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Mar 9:34  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

It’s also not surprising that they kept quiet. By this stage they must have realised that Jesus’ way was different.

So he sits down – that’s the way he taught.

Here’s the key to real fellowship and witness – listen again:

Mar 9:35  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Later in Mark 10 he spells out the model that he will be:

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

In that study about people who live to 100 and beyond, the second on the list was:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.

Those are the kind of close friends that serve you.

In marriage it’s no different. It’s never a 50/50 relationship. Its 100/100. At some point one partner is on zero strength and the other gives everything.

Jesus challenges us beyond those close friends and marriage partners – to be servant of ALL.

This is the upside-down Kingdom again.

It’s usually the wealthy or the powerful who have servants.

The least, the poor and the oppressed often are the ones who serve.

The Kingdom of God does not involve dominance, but rather it revolutionises the way we relate.

And Jesus’ example is seen in the teaching about his death. In Philippians chapter two, we read about how he empties himself and becomes a servant -ultimately giving himself up to death on a cross.

And just to show how radically different this Christian way is, he shows them in a visible sign.

Mar 9:36  He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, Mar 9:37  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

When you think of the money that goes into special events to welcome special people – powerful leaders, presidents and popes alike, its all about who is important. It’s honour to receive people into your homes in many cultures and situations.

There used to be a sign in peoples’ homes in the old days: “Christ is the unseen guest and listener to every conversation”.

People still tidy up when guests come. In our case a visit from granny brought about real action.

Jesus turns all this on its head by saying that if you welcome a child, you welcome him – and indirectly you welcome God who sent him.

Because Jesus the king becomes Jesus the servant king – all the power structures on earth are seen differently – people are valued differently from then on. They area no longer valued by what they have accumulated, or achieved, or invented. Rather they are seen from God’s point of view. They are loved by God. They are the people for whom Jesus died.

And if Jesus values them – so should we.

We are called to be servants of all.

In the words of the song we sang:

Verse 4

So let us learn how to serve,  And in our lives enthrone Him;

 Each other’s needs to prefer,  For it is Christ we’re serving

The interesting thing about the servant and the child, is that they both get their identity from someone else.

The servant from the master.

The child from the parents.

We are the children of our Father and bear His identity by the way we live. If power and position drive us, we do not belong to Christ; but if we are the “last of all and servant of all” (Mar_9:35), we are identified with Christ as the sons of God.

So when Jesus talks us about being salt and light, and that a light is meant to be on a stand and not under a bowl, he says this: Mat 5:16  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The kind of light that should shine is this servant heart for people.

Our values, our character, our identity and our wisdom come from our heavenly father. So what James says in 3:17 makes sense, and sounds right in this servant mode: we should be peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

May this be true of us.

Amen.

 

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17 September 2017 Sunday Message: Triangles and forgiveness. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings:  Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20

Message:

How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊

I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.

And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.

Most of us avoid those.

School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.

So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.

In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.

On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.

In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.

Communities and families.

In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.

Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.

Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.

We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.

  • We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
  • We tell someone else.

If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip.  (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)

There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”

If you do:

  • Suddenly there are three people.
  • Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
  • And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.

Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.

The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.

Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.

And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.

Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).

And this is even more important:

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)

So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.

The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.

Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.

  • For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
  • The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.

And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.

I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.

Paul goes on to say:

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…

Good point.

But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.

He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).

That includes taking pot shots at each other.

Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  

Amen.

Sunday message 19 March 2017 – “The kind of worshippers the Father seeks”

Readings: Psalm 95:-17; John 4:5-24

MESSAGE

I hope you enjoyed the Star Wars video. It was a suitable contrast I imagine to the “total devotion” of the song from Grease a couple of weeks ago. Even Darth Vader can fall in love. There is hope for all. The truth is that Rob kindly edited out the sad bits of course. It turns out that the lovely lady in pink already had a boyfriend called Chris.

A bit like our lady in John 4 – the woman at the well – relationships are not always simple.

She had been through a series of husbands – and Jesus knows about them all. And the current partner she is living with who is not her husband. It explains why she is fetching water at midday – no one else would normally be there. She might have been a social pariah – an exile.

Jesus has a way of getting people’s attention.

And it’s not surprising that the conversation turns to worship.

After all Jesus is really after her heart.

Did you notice that the Psalm today neatly covers all the aspects of this relationship with God we call worship.

The Psalmist calls us to

  • sing for joy
  • shout aloud (v1)

 come before him with thanksgiving

  • extol him with music and song (v2)

and

  • bow down in worship,
  • kneel before the LORD our Maker (v6)

It’s all there.

We call it praise and worship.

It’s all part of a relationship of worship – living our lives daily in the realisation that he is WORTHY of recognition for all He is and all he does.

CS Lewis put it like this:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. If it were possible for a created soul fully to ‘appreciate,’ that is, to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme blessedness. To praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression. Our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.

The woman at the well discusses theory – that kind of conversation is theological. We study and discuss how our lives intersect with God, and look at what is acceptable and what is not.

After his surprising revelation that he knows all about her, she puts out a theological proposition which should have stimulated theological discussion:

Joh 4:19  “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Joh 4:20  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

His response is to the point:

Joh 4:21  Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Joh 4:22  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Joh 4:23  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. Joh 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Listen again: the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

So often we read in scripture that we are the seekers.

For example these well known passages:

  • Deu 4:29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Or David’s song in 2 Chronicles:

  • 1Ch 16:8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 1Ch 16:9  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 1Ch 16:10  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Or the beautiful Isaiah 55:

  • Isa 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isa 55:7  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Or the rich imagery of Hosea 10:

  • Hos 10:12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

Or Jeremiah’s promise to the exiles that God has plans for them – not to prosper them or harm them, but to give them a hope and a future. He goes on to say:

  • Jer 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

We seek Him – and he seeks worshippers. The two must intersect. They do – in the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s not about the place – says Jesus to the bucket lady at the well. It’s about me. This is Jesus the way, the truth and the life. Worship is in spirit – in God who is spirit – and in truth – in Messiah Jesus.

Read the rest of John 4 at home. It’s a remarkable meeting and transformation. Would be great to know what happens at home as she talks to the man who is not her husband about Jesus.

There would have been a conversation about the man who “… told me everything I ever did.” (verse 39).

And about living water:

Joh 4:13  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, Joh 4:14  but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

There must have been a conversation about what it means to have your thirst for love and life really quenched. Real satisfaction.

And about this God who seeks our hearts and devotion.

Who changes our hearts.

Whom we love with all our hearts… and everything else we are.

Amen.