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Sunday sermon 7 July – Ambassadors for Jesus

Readings:

2 Corinthians 9:5-12

Galatians 6:7-16

Luke 10:1-10; 16-20


Introduction

 

A story is told about a man who was on a luxury liner and suddenly he falls overboard. He can’t swim and in desperation he begins calling for help. Now it just so happens that there were several would be rescuers on deck who witnessed the incident.

 

·         The first man was a MORALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately reached into his briefcase and pulled out a book on how to swim. He now tossed it to him and he yelled: Now brother, you read that and just follow the instructions and you will be alright.

 

·         The man next to him happened to be an IDEALIST. When he saw the man fall overboard he immediately jumped into the water and began swimming all around the drowning man saying: Now just watch me swim. Do as I do and you will be alright.

 

·         The person next to him happened to be a member of the INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH. He looked upon the drowning man’s plight with deep concern. He yelled out: Now, just hold on friend. Help is on the way. We are going to establish a committee and dialogue your problem. And then, if we have come up with the proper financing, we will resolve your dilemma.

 

·         The next man on deck happened to be a representative of the school of POSITIVE THINKING. He yelled out to the drowning man: “Friend, this situation is not nearly as bad as you think. Think dry!”

 

·         The next man on board happened to be a REVIVALIST. By this time the drowning man was going down for the third time and desperately began waving his arm. Seeing that, the revivalist yelled out: Yes brother, I see that hand, is there another? Is there another?

 

·         And finally, the last man on deck, was a REALIST. He immediately plunged into the water, at the risk of his own life, and pulled the victim to safety.

 

 

Message

So what did you think of the readings today?

I wonder if you noticed what they had in common?

·         Yes they were in English

·         Yes they were both from the New Testament

·         They referred in one way or another to sowing, reaping and harvest. And harvest is, amongst other things in the bible, a metaphor, a picture or a way of understanding what we invest in – when we share the gospel and people come to faith.

Harvesting is about that critical time really – when the crops have to be collected. Whether by hand or huge combined harvesters – it is a critical time.

I recall seeing a brilliant video presentation on mission – using the harvest as the key image (as it is used in Scripture) when a family had lost their farming dad – and they felt paralysed when harvest time came – the job was too big. And early one morning – there was this roar of engines in the distance – before sunrise – they could hear the noise getting closer and closer. And there they were – the whole community of farmers came along with these huge machines – and reaped the harvest.

It was brilliant! It spoke about community, unity, and a common purpose. The Christian church in many places has none of those. Not community, not unity, and not a common purpose.

There are glimpses. There are moments. There are times when Christians seem to get it right. But often we are not like a mighty army, as the hymn declares, but like a mighty tortoise – plodding along. And when it gets too hard – we pull our heads in and hide in our shells.

God is calling the church in this generation to its true mission. We are a lifesaving station that is still to save lives. We are to jump into the water and rescue people.

We are called. We are called to follow Jesus and to help others find and follow him.

Frankly – we are so grumpy and selfish sometimes that we should not be surprised if people think we ourselves need saving from ourselves!

I watched this classic TV clip this week – a nice BBC weather presenter was caught after she had done the weather forecast – she thought the cameras were off and boy was she grumpy.

Let’s have a look at her…

http://video.au.msn.com/watch/video/9raw-weather-girls-eye-roll-goes-viral/xnd06zc?cpkey=d3bb0ec3-a7b3-42b0-b69f-24f34573c787%257c%257c%257c%257c

We can be like that too – our true colours eventually pop out under pressure.

Of course pastors can have a bad day too. Try this one as an example. You don’t have to watch the whole video – you get the idea of being grumpy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSJt-LHMNRY

Now if I have sounded like that – I humbly apologise! I probably have had some bad days! But Pastor Jim tops them all!

It seems to me that Jesus is calling us to a consistency in our behaviour – that whatever we do and are on Sunday should be who we are every day! When the cameras are off too! We can’t be one thing on a Sunday and than indifferent on a Monday when it comes to our witness and care for people.

Jesus seemed overly and enthusiastically interested in getting people to do what he did as he reached out to people with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

It was clearly more than the 12 original disciples.

In Luke 10 he sends out 70 – or 72.

Now I know that the issues were different. Clearly they had “superpowers” – healing the sick and casting out demons.

Some have suggested that this was a one-off thing.

It certainly was different – and it was before Pentecost.

We do pray for the sick – and there are those in this generation who cast out demons.

Put that aside for now – and ask yourself this question.

What did they talk about? What was the conversation about?

What captivated their imagination? Probably these factors:

  • Jesus. They were his followers. Consequently they were
  • Obedience. Or at least a willingness to have a go! He sent them out and they went!

  • Risk taking – they were to get up and go! Crossing boundaries of all sorts.
  • They were not to be individualists – rather they were to go two by two with little luggage.
  • They were to be dependent on the hospitality of others! That too is risky!
  • They acted out and talked about the Kingdom of God.

And as part of their arriving they had a commodity that they traded with. Anyone pick that up? What was it? Healing? Preaching? NO – peace!

‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 

How do we really understand this?

I think perhaps by comparing it with what they were instructed  to do if things failed:

10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God has come near.” 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

If you extend peace – and you find a similarly minded (peaceful) person there who also promotes peace – your peace will rest on them.

If not – it will bounce back like an email sent to the wrong address.

In the context of extending the Kingdom of God through our ministry – outreach – care in the community – it seems to be about building with people who are open to what we offer – the peace of God.

The peace of God is not just a nice feeling – or a Miss World wish “I’m working for world peace ALL OVER THE WORLD!” It’s the gospel of reconciliation in one word! Listen to these passages:

  • 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. (Jesus’ gift of peace).
  • Act_10:36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Peter is preaching here).
  • Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Paul is speaking here).

The whole story (the kerygma or message) of Jesus is about a peace mission from heaven – about God reaching out to people who were estranged from him – in Jesus, and through Jesus’ followers today.

So really it’s about all of us and all of the gospel.

In the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

 Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. 
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world. 
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. 
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

 The harvesting image is really significant.

Sowing and reaping.

Paul uses that image to talk about giving in 2 Corinthians 9. What we give here counts towards the Kingdom – we are investing in the things that matter to Jesus – the reaching of those who need His gospel of peace.

Two quotes from writers illustrate this:

  1. This is not a hobby. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”  He was talking not about a hobby, but a life’s work.  You can see the kingdom come upif you’re willing to get your hands dirty–– and spend some time on your knees.” (Lawrence Wood)
  1. The church should be a community of dates instead of pumpkins.Pumpkins you can harvest in six months.Dates have to be planted and tended by people who will not live to harvest them.Dates are for future generations. (George Chauncey)

It is clear that we are messengers of Jesus – representatives. Paul speaks this kind of language when he talks about believers being a new creation in Christ. Do you remember the passage? I referred to it two weeks ago. Yes 2 Corinthians 5:17. Listen to it again and the verses that follow:

2Co 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2Co 5:18  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:

2Co 5:19  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.

2Co 5:20  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.

2Co 5:21  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We are Christ’s ambassadors.

There are some pretty powerful images associated with that. Think of that nice Australian man Julian Assange. Been in an embassy in London for almost a year. Where is he? Actually he’s in Ecuador! In the Embassy.

Or that nice young American Mr Edward Snowden. Trying to find a bit of turf in an embassy to escape the wrath of America. Whistle blower, or spy? People have different views on this.

But like all fugitives embassies are useful places if they are friendly nations! (Think of the old Skp movies with the KGB or James Bond). Embassies are a piece of one country planted in another, and ambassadors speak with the authority of the country that sends them.

We are ambassadors of Christ – no wonder Jesus said in verse 16 of the Gospel reading today:

16 ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.’

Man that’s good. We are citizens of a different Kingdom. Paul says in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.

We are ambassadors of that Kingdom – God’s kingdom. No pressure. Really.

Yes there is – because we can be pretty bad ambassadors. Like silent witnesses. Not much help really.

It does take the pressure off though. Because if our mission is rejected – if we are rejected because of our beliefs and what we stand for and proclaim – those guys are rejecting Jesus – and by rejecting Jesus the missionary (the sent one) – they are rejecting the one who sent Jesus – God!

Of course the 70 get a bit carried away in their report back:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’

Cool hey Jesus! Pretty cool! Super followers! Way to go!

Listen to what he says:

20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Why? Is that not a bit selfish? Yay – I have a ticket to heaven! Woo hoo!

Actually no. It’s a profound thing that is being said by the Lord Jesus here. This is the beginning of a new people – a new family of faith – the people of God which would be made up by guys and girls from all around the globe – every tribe and nation – every language and colour – this is the people of God – the church – in it’s very first form.

You think you’ve been a member of the church for ever! Try these guys for vintage!

I don’t have the words for how profound this is. Paul writing to the Ephesians says it best. We’ll end with these words:

Eph 2:11  Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—

Eph 2:12  remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

 

Eph 2:13  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

 

Eph 2:14  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

Eph 2:15  by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,

Eph 2:16  and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

 

Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

 

Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

 

Eph 2:19  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household,

Eph 2:20  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

 

Eph 2:21  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Eph 2:22  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

So there is some harvesting to be done.

It may begin with you and I sowing the seeds right where we are at this point in our lives. That is our mission. That’s what we invest in through our tithes and offerings – the work of making this place an outpost of the Kingdom, a kind of embassy where his ambassadors gather to be briefed, to report back, and to be sent out in His name.

Amen.

Sunday Sermon 2 December – Be alert and ready

Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16   1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Message

So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.

Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.

The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by

  • A parable
  • Some warnings
  • Some great encouragement.

THE PARABLE

The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.

It’s really a warning.  Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31:  Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming

The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.

Luk 21:32  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.

For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope.  Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):

Luk 21:33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!

THE WARNINGS

And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:

Luk 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.

Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.

Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.

We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.

Listen again to verse 34:  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.

This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).

Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).

Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!

Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.

There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.

If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”

Sound familiar?

The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:

Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.

The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.

Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7:  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.

So again: Luke 21:34  “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

You will be caught unawares. The day will come.

AVOID SPECULATION

Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…

We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.

Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

It’s about being ready

About the right perspective: Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.

I remember well one of the brothers  in our lives – from years ago –  who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!

For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)

The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse:  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!

Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.

This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.

This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.

Holding on for God to come

He is coming

Maranatha!

For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:

Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.

For us this also means:

  • He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
  • He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
  • Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
  • Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
  • Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.

But mainly it’s about Hope!

The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.

As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be  focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.

May the glory always go to him!

Amen.