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14 April 2017 – Good Friday: Windows on the cross of Jesus.

READING: Luke 23:32-47

MESSAGE 

We’re going to carry that cross after we’re done here today. It’s a fair weight, but not full size.

We had a volunteer up on it last Friday. A young girl. It was about her size.

No nails. No ropes. She was just standing on the top of her chair with her hands in the right place and her feet where they would be resting on a platform – so that she could push herself up to breathe.

I asked her how she was feeling at the end of the reflection on the cross – and she said – “tired”.

Jesus’ cross would have been a bit bigger. About 7 to 9 feet tall (2,1m to 2,7m), and would have weighed up to 300 pounds (136kg)

  • It had to bear his full weight – which would pull on those nails. (And you thought a thorn in your foot was bad.)
  • His thorns were pressed down into his head.

What is your response to seeing Jesus on the cross?

  • We heard a creative narrative describing Jesus’ Mother’s response.
  • And the thoughts of the centurion.

What about us?

The cross was a horrible symbol of Roman power and control. if you had a relative or friend nailed on one, it would have acted as a warning to you and your family to behave and submit.

It would have been enough to give you nightmares and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • That horrible symbol of torture – we wear in shiny gold or silver.
  • And as Christians we look at it with gratitude and hope, praise and thanksgiving.

Why? What happened with this one crucifixion amongst many thousands more – that made this possible? That this Friday should be called “Good”?

There are many ways to see the cross.

Like an orchestra with many parts, they all combine together in an amazing declaration of the love of God. Perhaps today a quintet is enough – just five of them:

  • Perhaps foremost in our thinking is punishment for our sins. That Jesus did this in our place. Although this is understood better in cultures that favour crime and punishment. We sing songs these days about the wrath of God being satisfied. Some people struggle with this – trying to balance it with His love in John 3:16 and 17. Believing that His son being sent motivated by love and not vengeance. That he was sent to save the world (which means the people), and not to condemn them. Of course, we should not be surprised at God’s righteous anger. We share some of that at times, although our motives are not always clear.

Related to that is the broader question of justice. The difference in our human justice system is that the people who have been wronged are often angry about the outcome and often want convicted criminals to pay more. Whereas the judges are not emotional at all. They are all about the balance and proportion of justice. Parents have to be careful here that they don’t punish children out of anger. Our emotional anger is very different from God’s righteous anger.

  • Shame and honour are another window on the cross. For some cultures, shame and honour are a bigger issue than punishment and wrath. When it comes to concepts like honour, many of us don’t understand honour cultures at all. Sin brings dishonour on us. And only Jesus can pay that debt. It’s an old theory of satisfaction for sin developed by an archbishop of Canterbury a thousand years ago. Jesus took our shame – it was a shameful business being pinned up there, and often naked too.

He was shamed for us – he takes our shame – and he removes our shame. The scripture speaks of our cleansing from sin and with that shame is removed.  For example 1Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 

  • Forgiveness is part of the package. It goes without saying. Our sins are dealt with because he dies for them. We are reconciled with God – the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sins – and we experience this amazing mercy through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to feel guilty any longer. With forgiveness, we become friends of God. Paul reminds in his important summary in 1 Corinthians 15:

1Co 15:3  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture…

What scripture is he referring to here? Not just some proof texts, but the huge expectation in the Old Testament of someone coming who would deal with sin and bring forgiveness once and for all. Isaiah 53 gives us a glimpse of this:

Isa 53:5  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isa 53:6  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

  •  Then there is simply the change that happenswe are transformed. Paul talks about this whole process in Romans – our sin has consequences – how Jesus has dealt with those – how we are justified by faith – how there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus– and then in chapter 12 he uses that important word “therefore”

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We are transformed – changed to be like Jesus. And that is not just about us as individuals – it influences our community life.

  • And so amongst other benefits of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the creation of a new people. Last but not least. This is about us being here together today.

 Most of us who are not Jewish, says Paul in Ephesians 2, were… 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.

He goes on:

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. 

When we live out all these benefits in a community of reconciliation, that community includes people that would have normally been separated from each other.

Paul also reminds us in Galatians 3:28 Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And Jesus’ prayer for unity reinforces this: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  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. (John 17:2–21)

This is an essential part our witness today when we gather as one people.

OUR RESPONSE TODAY

There are many more consequences to this death on the cross. So many books written – so many aspects and angles. Like that huge pink diamond sold earlier this month in Hong Kong which took nearly two years to cut, it has many facets and surfaces.

Like Mary, the centurion, any other characters in that Easter event, and people through the ages – we all have to respond one way or the other.

There is no escaping the demands the cross of Christ makes on us – to take note and react – and to take action ourselves.

How amazing that this one death does all this.

What has made the difference?

Do we have to wait until Sunday to find out?

Well no. Had this been any other death, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless we were tracing our family tree and found a relative who had been crucified, or some DNA connection that would make us think about our forefathers.

This is different – because of Sunday. The third day. The empty tomb.

The many appearances of Jesus to people. His eating food.

The fish barbeque on the beach.

The appearance of Jesus in locked rooms.

The holes in his hands and feet.

This is different – because of His unique position as the very first person to genuinely be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others were raised from the dead. They would have died from natural causes – probably in old age.

This Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – is the first in the family – and we will follow. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:20) 

  • We can’t speak about the cross without rejoicing in the resurrection.
  • And we can’t think of new life, resurrection life, without marveling at the amazing love of Christ – shown on the cross.

Paul’s words in Romans 5 help us end today:  Rom 5:7  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV84)

We thank Him for the cross today. Words can barely express our gratitude for His love.

Amen.

 

Sermon, 5 June 2016 – resurrection; then, and now, and then….

READINGS: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

SERMON  

Last week it was the faith of the centurion we looked at – his faith led to the healing of his servant.

The very next story in Luke – and there is no faith to be seen.

  • It’s a funeral.
  • It’s grim.
  • There’s a widow and her only son has died.

The dead guy can’t have faith – and there is no expectation of faith at a funeral. Just pain and sorrow – deep grief.

The people around would have known about Elijah raising a widow’s son. Once word got out they would have joined the dots – here was another prophet empowered by God.

But put yourself in the story.

This is 5 miles away from Nazareth. 25 miles away from Capernaum where we were last week. Quite  a long walk really.

The death would have been very recent. They buried their dead within 24 hours. Not like our week’s mourning at most here. Or the Swedish custom of a couple of weeks between death and the funeral.

So the grief is still raw – this is a child – an only son of a widow – it’s a disaster from an economic survival point of view.

The professional mourners would have been there. Wailing.

Don’t think that’s a bizarre custom either. They cried loudly so that the real mourners would not be the centre of attention as they genuinely wept.

It was all healthy but raw.

And along comes this prophet like Elijah. Except things are different. Elijah knew the family and he was known to them. In this account Jesus didn’t.

  • Uninvited.
  • A stranger who walks in.
  • A crowd following him intersects with the funeral crowd.
  • Imagine someone doing that at a funeral you’re at. Unusual to say the least.

He touches the funeral bier. The coffin – which would have been an open kind of frame. It certainly brought the procession to a halt.

The key line is verse 13: Luk 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

What a strange thing to say. Of course she would be crying. Grief specialists would say to her: “let it out dear. It’s okay to cry!”

  • It comes from compassion. In fact, a better translation is probably this:

13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” (NRSV)

  • It also comes from hope – and knowledge of what was possible.

He knew he could reverse this. He knew his ultimate destiny. He knew that resurrection would ultimately change the way we see the world.

I remember Nicky Gumbel talking about how interesting a person Jesus would have been to have around.

  • At a wedding.
  • At a picnic.
  • When out fishing.
  • During a storm at sea.
  • At a funeral.

The text is very matter of fact. Remember also that only Luke tells us this story. It’s not in the other gospel accounts. Listen again:

Luk 7:14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
Luk 7:15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Luk 7:16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”
Luk 7:17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

WHAT ABOUT US

What do you make of this?

At a factual and historical level, it’s Jesus showing his hand to the crowds. The word certainly would have got out, as was the case with the raising of Lazarus. In Lazarus’ case it was a nail in his own coffin as his enemies were provoked to plot his death.

There are two points to take home today really.

1. COMPASSION

For us today it is a reminder of His compassion – shown in so many other gospel accounts.

  • The hungry – he had compassion on them and fed them.
  • The sick – he healed them.
  • Blind beggars who called out to him – in compassion he healed them.
  • And two great stories in the bible – the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal son – are both about compassionate people – the Samaritan and the Father in the stories.

It has to speak to us about compassion – we at least have to be like that – from deep within. The word itself – compassion – in the original New Testament Language encompassed the bowels, heart, lungs, liver or kidneys – all seen in those days as the seat of human emotion.

It gets us here (point to gut).

Are we really compassionate? the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, said this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Not a bad motto. To live by – not just to have on the wall or on your facebook page.

2. WOULD THAT JESUS SHOW UP IN ALL KINDS OF PLACES.

I bet no one afterwards at the funeral tea was resentful that this strange rabbi gate-crashed their ceremony.

“Who’s that bloke ‘ey stopping the procession?”

I’ve been watching too much British television I think.

Jesus is really keen to walk into the lives of our families and friends – he brings a whole new perspective on our sickness, pain, griefs and our dying. And our living!

And he really wants to walk into our mess too.

It’s ultimately about resurrection. Not about disembodied souls going to heaven. But about a whole new life at the end of it all.

And the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us. (Romans 8:11).

That resurrection life begins now – we are made alive spiritually. He still breaks through into our messy world by His Holy Spirit.

Nicky Gumble tells the great story about a man who got really carried away in a very dull staid church. He was lifting his hands and shouting “hallelujah”- whereupon the Church warden came up to him at tapped him on the shoulder saying “we don’t do that here!” The man said excitedly – “but I’ve found religion”. The warden replied – “you didn’t get it here”.

If Jesus can walk into a funeral procession and turn things around, he can surely walk into our situations and change things too – bring new life and hope.

Next week when our guests are here there will be opportunities for us to receive prayer and really hear from the Lord. I encourage you to bring a friend along.

God still shows up in our lives. He changes us to make us compassionate.

He fills us with hope too – which is an infectious and helpful force in a pretty hopeless world. In fact, hope is the basis for our witnessing. Peter writes this:

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

Hopeful people are joyful! Happy! There would nothing gloomy at that moment when the dead boy was returned to his mother alive and well.

Amen.

Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53

Message:

ascension

I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 4 October 2015 – dealing with the voices

MESSAGE

Psalm 55:4-8, 22 Page 892; 1 Peter 5:1-11 Page 1892; Luke 12 :25-34 Page 1618 (NIV)

CAN YOU REALLY FLY AWAY?

Let’s listen to a musical introit from Mendelsohn’s “O for the wings of a dove”  – the second part of “Hear my prayer”.  The first part of “Hear my prayer” is also from of Psalm 55, revealing the turmoil and the anguish of the writer who is calling on God for help in the face of the godless and various enemies. “O for the wings of a dove” is part of the prayer and seen as a way to ecape.

The singers are The Choirboys (2005) – a trio who were together for a short while.

In fact in Psalm 55 it is a close friend who has betrayed David. One of those worst disappointments. This is stuff that breaks your heart. Like betrayal in marriage. Divorce and separation. Or conflict of any sort that is too hard to bear.

The idea that one can escape with the wings of a dove is not a bad one.

Go off into the wilderness. The desert fathers did that – shifted into a parallel zone to be connected with God in a deeper way – a conscious choice to be in that zone. For them the wilderness was a place of solitude and solitude.

We need that too – that ability to find a place of “repose” – restfulness and tranquillity – calm and peacefulness.

Our prayer life is part of that – plus our ability to zone out in other ways – through rest, music, reading and creative writing. Journal keeping – drawing – whatever works for us. For some its running!

IT’S IN THE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD THAT THE PEACE IS FOUND

The impulsive apostle Peter – in his older wiser days when he stopped putting his foot into things – wrote this:

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.

The Christians then were persecuted – many were dying for their faith too like today.

There is a way forward, says Peter. Rest in the Lord – cast your anxieties on him – because he cares for you.

Just as in Psalm 55:22 David grounds his trust in this faithful God too: Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…

This being peaceful – “chillaxing” as the young people say today – is not a complacency however. The verse that follow make that very clear:

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.

There is a war on.

The Apostle Paul supports Peter in this idea of standing firm – in this locus classicus or key passage in the New Testament on spiritual battles:

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Eph 6:11  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Eph 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Eph 6:13  Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Eph 6:14  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

Eph 6:15  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Of course there is more – and this too is grounded in the word of God (remember our discussion last week about the two sides of the same coin?) and prayer through the Holy Spirit:

Eph 6:16  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Eph 6:17  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Eph 6:18  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. 

JESUS REENFORCES THIS STANDING FIRM IN HIS TEACHING IN THE GOSPELS

  • This steadiness – ability to fly away into a safe zone…
  • The fear, worry and anxiety we deal with – is to be left with God. They are distractions in the big picture of the battle for truth – the Truth of God, His Kingdom, and his desire and purpose for the world.

Yes – this is true! Listen again to the links in the readings today:

  • Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you…”
  • 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Jesus says this too elsewhere:

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.

And in today’s reading from Luke 12:

Luk 12:25  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Luk 12:26  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

He’s really saying – cut the c**p! This obsession with stuff! And your needs in the consumer Christian cult we all get sucked into.

Luk 12:29  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.

Luk 12:30  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Luk 12:31  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Luk 12:33  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luk 12:34  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your treasure in heaven is not really, primarily, about a bigger and better mansion that you invest in the sky (the idea that if you don’t you’ll just get a batch with bad/Asian/English/South African neighbours – or whatever matches your prejudice.) And don’t be anxious and fearful.

Luk 12:32  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

The Kingdom. Has been pleased to give you… Now! Its values – its economics. Its purpose for living – living out Kingdom values and standardsseeking the Kingdom above other things – bringing people into the Kingdom – investing your tithes (still 10%) into the work of the Kingdom through first and foremost the local church.  It’s about doing the works that God gives you.

Remember the women at the well story and sermon? When they went shopping and Jesus was able to get on with things? Remember the food debate? Here it is in John 4:

Joh 4:30  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Joh 4:31  Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

Joh 4:32  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Joh 4:33  Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

Joh 4:34  “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

His work was the very substance of his being. Obedience and redemption. These are bread and butter issues, if you like.

Jesus’ work was a war too.

When Jesus once healed on the Sabbath, they accused him of doing the work of Beelzebub – Lord of the flies. The devil. The Satan – is the correct way of talking about him. Here’s the passage in Matthew 12 this time:

Mat 12:24  But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

Mat 12:25  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.

Mat 12:26  If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

Mat 12:27  And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

Mat 12:28  But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

You can’t do his stuff – his work – unless you are steady – grounded – standing firm and alert – with your intelligence operatives doing their job.

Jesus’s work on earth ended on the cross. But the story didn’t end there. This is the Kingdom of the 3rd day. Resurrection. And giving the Spirit. And His intercession for us. And His coming again in the future to judge us all.

It’s what David didn’t live after – he lived before it. We live after the resurrection. We know the results of the real World Cup.

But David knew it was coming. He spoke of Messiah aka Christ:

Psa 110:1  Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” 

When people asked Jesus this question, he referred to this. 

Mat 22:42  “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.

Mat 22:43  He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

Mat 22:44  “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘

Mat 22:45  If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

Mat 22:46  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

The wrestling in prayer is no easy task. Jesus had his time in the wilderness – but it was not a place of rest and refuge. It was a struggle with the voices that challenged his identity and destiny. (He was led there by the Spirit!)

And in the garden of Gethsemane too. He didn’t ask then to fly away like a dove.

He did pray this though:

(Mat 26:36  Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Mat 26:37  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.)

Mat 26:38  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mat 26:39  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

(Mat 26:40  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

Mat 26:41  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”)

Mat 26:42  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

(Mat 26:43  When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.)

Mat 26:44  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

In his temptations it was “If you are the son of God…”. In Gethsemane it was about facing the suffering and darkness of the sins of the world. It was being the Lamb of God – except unlike the lambs at Passover who had no idea what was coming – he knew exactly. And like David, he knew the betrayal of a close friend. He need to know in all this that he was the beloved Son of God. He needed the voice he heard at his baptism again – and his transfiguration. Here are the passages from the ESV:

Mat 3:16  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;

Mat 3:17  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Mar 9:7  And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 

WHAT ABOUT US?

Henri Nouwen put it like this:

“Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, ‘Prove that you are a good person.’ Another voice says, ‘You’d better be ashamed of yourself.’ There also is a voice that says, ‘Nobody really cares about you,’ and one that says, ‘Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.’

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.’” 

  • Music – helps you step out of the zone into his peace. It’s God’s gift.
  • Reflection – helps too, like meditation on his word.
  • Quietness – be still and know (Psalm 46) or Stillness.
  • In the face of terror – Escape like a dove to those safe places.
  • Standing firm – in the face of Terror – is in His strength alone.
  • Being strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

This is us. Amen.

Receive the blessing – from the choirboys again:

Tuesday Church 14th April 2015 – Testifying to the resurrection

Readings: Acts 4:31-37; John 3:7-17

Message

In the time of Jesus people lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They were taxed by Rome, ruled by Rome, controlled by Rome and Roman soldiers.

It would be like having an army from another country taking over control of our lives. Imagine Australian soldiers taking over here – watching us all at every moment. Perish the thought. Especially if they could make you carry their packs for a mile at random. And if they were crucifying people outside New World Shop as a warning to us to behave.

You can imagine that someone would want to overthrow those Aussies and send them packing. And there would probably be some group who would train in the hills somewhere and plot to overthrow the oppressive occupying army. Singing “God defend New Zealand” would be banned by the oppressors, but people would sing it in secret, and honour the kiwi flag.

In Jesus’ time there were all kinds of people who took on the Romans. Lots of them were arrested and crucified. Look at Barabbas as an example.

Most of those young Jews who were regarded as Messiahs died by crucifixion. They were actually expected to wage war or terrorism against the Roman army. When they died, one of their followers would probably have taken their place, or found another messianic leader prepared for battle. Judas Iscariot was possibly a member of a group of these zealots who carried daggers. They were called dagger-men or sicarii. They carried sicae or small daggers under their cloaks and bumped people off.

Jesus is the only young Jew who was hailed as a Messiah – who was resurrected after crucifixion. The resurrection sets him apart.

If you look at the Acts reading today, the early church was a completely different community – even sharing their wealth so that everyone was looked after. They shared everything and really cared for each other.

What was their message though? Act 4:33  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

The resurrection of Jesus sets him apart from any other person claiming to be a Messiah.

And in addition, the reading from John shows us that Jesus is completely unique because of who he was:

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.

Jesus was the Son of God. There is no other who had that position. And, uniquely, he defeated the evil of the Roman tyranny with love and sacrifice. His Kingdom is completely different from the powers of this world – as they were then and as they are today. We see this especially in his conversation with Pilate when he was arrested:

Joh 18:33  Then Pilate entered again into the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:34  Jesus replied, “Do you say this from yourself, or have others said this to you about me?”

Joh 18:35  Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me! What have you done?”

Joh 18:36  Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Joh 18:37  Then Pilate said to him, “So then you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Joh 18:38  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.

Joh 18:39  But it is your custom that I release for you one prisoner at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:40  Then they shouted again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)

Jesus stands alone as one who was resurrected – and one who claimed to be the Son of God. He makes the most unique claims – like this spoken to doubting Thomas:

Joh 14:6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  Joh 14:7  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

And to Martha when Lazarus died: Joh 11:25  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, Joh 11:26  and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die [forever]. Do you believe this?”

And only he speaks of eternal life. We have eternal life through him now: 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 most important thing I can tell you is this – you can know God through Jesus – you won’t perish – you will have this eternal life and relationship – you can have it!

Now. Because Jesus is raised – resurrected and lives forever. He is truth. As he says to Pilate: For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37)

Joh 8:31  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Joh 8:32  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

We too can live forever. This is the truth. He is the truth.

He is alive and is here today. And if you allow him into your life – he will be with you always!

Amen.

Sunday sermon 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunday

Readings:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11;  Matthew 28:1-10

Message – Facing Jesus again:

Have you ridden in a hearse before? I have, over the years. I’ve had to help funeral directors load people into the back too.

My piano was a gift. I was playing piano at a conference, and and member of our church years ago came up to me and asked if I had a piano at home. An odd question to ask a pianist. I confessed I did not. “We have two” she said. “we would like to give you one of them.” Very biblical, not so.

We discussed how to move the piano while arranging another friend’s mother’s funeral. It had to travel about 110 kms to our town. “I can do that” said my undertaker friend. Sure enough the piano arrived in a van marked “Saffas” a funeral company. Interesting look from the neighbours. It wasn’t a hearse thankfully. Kind of a mortuary van. One can only imagine the neighbours peering over the fence.

Here’s one of my favourite stories about hearses. True story. A Methodist minister was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church. The minister wasn’t feeling well so he decided to ride with the Funeral Director in the hearse. In the front seat.

By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely and he said he felt terrible. Feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over.

As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the minister stretch out in the back of the hearse. It had curtains and nobody would see him. The minister thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a petrol station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.

With all the colour drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the petrol pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.

We’re not really used to dead people getting up again. Not from a grave, a hearse or a mortuary van!

And even if the disciples had actually believed Jesus, they weren’t really hanging around the tomb to see the “what if” scenario. What if he does rise?

Death has that terrible effect of shutting down possibilities like that. It is very final.

But these women seem to be keeping an eye on things – according to Matthew. Verse one tells us this: Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. And in the previous chapter, chapter 27, they were there too. They were at the cross, the burial and back on the third day. Have a look:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)

Here’s the fascinating thing. You know we’ve talked before about Jesus eating fish on the beach and also appearing in locked rooms? Well here – let me read it to you again:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (Matthew 28:1-3)

What doesn’t happen here? They witness the stone rolling back. You would expect Jesus to come out – a bit like Lazarus. But no. He doesn’t.

What do you think this means then? Perhaps this – He didn’t need the stone to be rolled away for his resurrection. They needed the stone rolled away to see he wasn’t there!

The guards are still there. The next verse puts their military prowess on the line: Mat 28:4  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. They are spooked by the angel. Do they faint? It certainly seems so.

The women hold their ground. Perhaps their watching – their vigil – is more than just bringing spices to the tomb (as in Mark). Matthew sees it differently. Perhaps they had an expectation?

By the way, Jews in those days believed that the soul kind of hung around the body for three days – and then moved on. Just saying. One of those interesting things. And people prayed at the tomb – even in the tomb – for a week. So the spices were helpful. Archaeology has revealed tombs with a part dug down inside, made lower, so people could stand upright in the tomb and pray. Jews stood and prayed.

That’s the girls for you. Always on the lookout. Happy to tell the story. Teach boys and girls and you will always find the girls have much more to say!! (No I’m not sexist!)

THE GIRLS ARE TO TELL THE BOYS

So the girls are instructed by the angel (that caused the big burly Roman soldiers to pass out in shock)

  • Not to fear – he knew what they were up to (verse 5) “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
  • What has happened (verse 6) “He is not here, He has risen, just as he said!”
  • Have a look at where he lay in the tomb (verse 6) “Come and see the place where he lay.”
  • Where he was to be seen – in Galilee (verse 7) “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Off they go: Mat 28:8  So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.- the boys – where to expect him (verse 7). Off they go.

But just in case an angel’s instruction is not enough, Jesus appears to them too – while they are on the run: Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:9-10)

IT’S A FACINATING ACCOUNT. Imagine this. So you’re one of those men/boys – disciples. The A team – mainly men – who had not done that well (one betrayal, one denial, one hanging around, on running off and leaving his clothes behind).

And these women (both Marys – see Mark 16:1 –  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.) … these women pass on the message from Jesus: “Jesus says – go to Galilee – you will see him there.”

O dear. Do we want to see Jesus – after we failed him? We ran away – denied him, and one of the team betrayed him and we didn’t even see that coming.

  • What are we going to say to him? How awkward! We really thought that we knew Judas as well!
  • If this is true – is he really alive? Or are the Marys losing their minds?

Matthew stands alone in this respect. Only here in this gospel do the women see, touch and worship Jesus. (verse 9)

And the word for worship takes us all the way back to the beginning of Matthew.

The men obviously listen and go to Galilee – Galilee of the gentiles (Isaiah 9).

And about that “worship” word. It is the gentile magi – the so called wise men – who “worship” baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word for “worship” is the same here. It means to bow down and to kiss.

Worship is the appropriate response for the women. The men will work it out in their own ways – from Peter’s restoration to Thomas’ touching his wounds.

And the special, unique factor in this account is verse 10. The women are met and encounter Jesus in a way that works for them.

For the boys – there is this unique authority in this instruction. I will read it again – listen up! What do you think the key is?

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

There’s no other place where this happens where he speaks of them as brothers (apart from John 20:17). A preacher called Mark Trotter puts it like this: Something as deep and mysterious as the Resurrection of our Lord has many levels of meaning. But Matthew wants you to consider this one. It reveals a God whose love for us is like a parent’s love for a prodigal child. Even if we reject God, God will never, never reject us. And if we do evil things, then God, out of God’s love, will find a way to make something good come out of it.

Like the reconciliation in the Old Testament between Joseph and his brothers: “as for you, you meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.”

You could put it like this: Go tell my brethren, [who fell asleep instead of watching and praying, who betrayed me, or who ran away] that I will meet them in Galilee, [to forgive them and give them new life.]

There are a series of resurrection appearances – appropriate for all. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to what he says again:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians  15:1-8)

How about you? Have you had an encounter with the risen Jesus? My prayer is that you certainly do! You can – in prayer, in faith and trust, in communion – in whatever way is appropriate to you, you can meet him as he did the women and men back then.

Take the time to meet Him!

15 March 2015 – Morning service at Rosedale Village – failure and success

Rosedale Village – Easter Message

The story is told of a learner policeman down in Wellington at the police college who was writing his final exam before graduation.

The last question in the paper described a horrific incident after a major fire caused by a road accident. A tanker had crashed into a house, and the whole thing had exploded. A crowd had gathered, and injured people were lying all over the place. While that was happening, some looters were smashing windows and burning couches in the street. There were bleeding people all over the place.

The question read – “you are the only policeman on duty at the time. What do you do?”

The man’s answer went like this: “you take off your uniform and mingle with the crowd”.

The story of Easter involves people who failed. They had been Jesus’ friends – and when he was captured, they ran away.

  • One – the leader of the group called Peter – told people three times that he didn’t know Jesus at all. He swore and cursed.
  • One – the man in the group who looked after their money called Judas – handed Jesus over to some soldiers – he got him arrested.
  • One – a young man called John Mark – ran away when the soldiers tried to arrest him – and left his clothes behind. Interesting way to become famous – running off naked.
  • Most of them – Jesus’ friends – disappeared. They “took off their uniforms” and mingled in the crowd. The men disappeared. Only the woman hung around. With the exception of the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

We spent a lot of time through life learning, studying, training, competing, and achieving things – especially at school. I am sure you’ve seen your children do this over the years. Or your grandchildren now. You may remember your school years too. Certificates, trophies, awards and reports abound, and a lot of effort is put into doing really well. In New Zealand much money and energy is spent on winning games – rugby, cricket and sailing for example.

The truth is that in the real world – not everyone wins. In fact, a lot of people do badly and fail.

It’s not winning or losing a game that matters. Or not getting good marks in a test. Those things are opportunities to try again and to solve problems or improve strategies. All real learning involves risks and making mistakes – correcting them and winning the battle!

The serious failures are failures in relationships. Where people let their friends and colleagues down, or family members. Where we are hurtful to others, or abuse them through anger or disrespect. Where we are destructive, wasteful, and uncaring. Where we abuse our positions of power and crush others or simple ignore their ideas or feelings. Or when leaders become despots, dictators or tyrants.

The hero in the Easter story is Jesus – who is killed by his enemies, and abandoned by his friends. He offers no violence, does not make apologies, or even try to clear his name.

The bad guys are his friends who take off their uniforms and mingle with the crowd. They lie, run away, and save their own skins.

In short – it’s a bit of a mess.

THE MAN ON THE BEACH

There is a lovely moment in the story where Peter – the leader of the group who denied Jesus three times – is trying to avoid everything by going back to his old job. Perhaps like us he was wishing for the good old days! There he is fishing – his whole life is a mess – and even the fish don’t bite. Jesus – alive again after being dead for three days – is standing on the beach. He tells them to throw their nets over on the other side of the boat. The fish bite like crazy.

They haul them in – and there is Jesus with a barbecue going, cooking fish and toasting bread. These failed depressed men – he feeds them. Fish oil is really good for depression I am told! Maybe it was as simple as that. Giving someone a cup of tea or coffee or something helpful to eat is a good thing in a crisis. He builds them up – strengthens them – models forgiveness – and they become even greater people again.

Over nearly thirty of working with people in crisis – I never lose hope. I’ve seen the worst of them – and lived through some of the worst of it.

Easter reminds me that the worst failures can be turned around. A dead friend is alive again and the world is changed. Men who took off their uniforms and mingled with the crowd – become heroes who go out and give their own lives for what they believe.

There is no darkness that is too dark. No failure too messy. The light will shine again on Easter Sunday and His light can chase your darkness away too.

We all can start again. Thanks be to God for His Word. And for the truth of the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Amen.

 Here is the reading from John 21 for your reflection:

Joh 21:1  Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way:

Joh 21:2  Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Joh 21:3  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Joh 21:4  Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Joh 21:5  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.

Joh 21:6  He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Joh 21:7  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.

Joh 21:8  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.

Joh 21:9  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Joh 21:10  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

Joh 21:11  Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.

Joh 21:12  Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

4 May 2014 – Emmaus Road Reflection

Eyes opened and hearts burning 

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:31  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:32  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.” 

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” 

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Those who know, tell those who don’t know…

That is the gospel in a nutshell. The problem is that on the road to Emmaus it is Jesus who appears not to know, while the two disciples are the ones who do!

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (vv17-18)

There is this ironic twist. The disciples claim to be “in the know” and seem amazed by this stranger’s ignorance!

The problem was that they only had half the story!

When you pass on the news with only half the story, that’s more like gossip.

The stranger is the one who puts them right of course. It is Jesus who unpacks the whole story. It’s rather nice really.

And the crunch comes when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the break.

They see.

And they acknowledge that their hearts were burning when he spoke to him and opened the Scriptures to them.

Remember Jeremiah writing about this? (Jer 20:9)  But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Eyes opened and hearts burning.

It doesn’t matter what order that happens in really.

For John Wesley – it was after some years of religious discipline that his heart was “strangely warmed” – there was this inner experience or reality which arose really out of a searching and his leadership of what was called “The Holy Club”

Listen to this account:

In 1729 he joined with a small group of students at Lincoln College who met on Sunday evenings to talk about religious books and engage in prayer together. John became the natural leader of this group which expanded: it became known as ‘The Holy Club’, and they extended their activities to pastoral care including prison visiting.
John began to set down rules for himself. When dining in hall he would only drink one glass of wine or ale and he would never taste more than three dishes of food. For the Holy Club he laid emphasis on (1) the central importance of Holy Communion; (2) the responsibility of doing good to all, and (3) the importance of the written word for developing the faith.

On 24 May 1738,  (frustrated and) depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ‘ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ Later that day he heard Luther’s anthem ‘Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,’ And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records:  ‘while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins … and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

DIFFERENT JOURNEYS

There are different journeys. The Emmaus road was the journey that those two disciples took while pretty depressed too. They only knew half the story. The death of Jesus was the precursor to the real event that was to change the world – his resurrection!

Wesley’s journey was as a religious person – a missionary working in America – who read hundreds of books and tried to follow a religious life. His heart was warmed when he HEARED a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

I don’t think that the two disciples or Wesley were actually expecting such a revelation! They were in a bad space emotionally when it happened.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

When our eyes are opened and our hearts warmed, it all fits into place.

Those who know tell those who don’t know – that the resurrection of Jesus changes things in a remarkable way.

And there is no resurrection to share with others without the amazing story of Jesus’ death.

It’s that death and resurrection that we remember at the table. We do this in remembrance of Him. We partake in His life! We accept the privilege of his grace – forgiveness, and the promise of new life.

AND we enjoy the power of the resurrection NOW. The same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

Our lives are transformed now!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE PEOPLE FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW: They are standing there with downcast faces. Gloomy. In the darkness of loss and depression. And there is John’s Wesley – depressed after all his religious discipline and his missionary years.

Jesus is the one who opens our eyes to the whole truth – and warms our hearts.

His light shines.

Those who know tell those who don’t know. Sometimes we’re like those who have forgotten. The gloom of our lives has blocked out the light of the Son of God who shines in our hearts.

I’ve been there. Some of my darkest days have been in the past five years. It has been impossible to claw back – except for the grace and love and warmth of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us – may there be a quickening of our spirits as we remember again the whole story.

Sunday 27 April 2014 – Doubting and believing Thomas

Text: John 20:19‑31

Sermon

Children aren’t afraid to ask questions or even to express some doubts.

David Heller in his little book, DEAR GOD: CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD, has some questions children have asked…

 Dear God, What do you think about all those movies made about you around Easter time? I think they’re kind of corny, myself. Your buddy, Charles (age 9)

 Dear God, When Jonah was in the whale, was it a he whale or a she whale? Mike (age 7)

 Dear God, What do you do with families that don’t have much faith? There’s a family on the next block like that. I don’t want to get them in trouble, so I can’t so who. See you in church, Alexis (age 10)

 Dear God, When I grow up will I have to fight in the army? Will there be a war? I’m not chicken or anything. I just want to know in advance. Terry (age 10)

 Dear God, I have doubts about you sometimes. Sometimes I really believe. Like when I was four and I hurt my arm and you healed it up fast. But my question is ‑ if you could do this why don’t you stop all the bad in the world? Like war. Like diseases. Like famine. Like drugs. And there are problems in other people’s neighborhoods too. I’ll try to believe more, Ian (age 10)

 Dear God, Want to hear a joke? What is red, very long, and you hear it right before you go to sleep? Give up? A sermon. Your friend, Frank (age 11)

Today’s Gospel reading  is about a man who was like a child when it came to questions. If he had one, he asked it. If he had a doubt, he expressed it. His name was Thomas. Most of us know him as “Thomas ‑ the Doubter” or “Doubting Thomas.”

I want us to take a little closer look at Thomas, for I think he’s not always been treated fairly. In fact, I think we who live in an age that questions everything can learn something from Thomas about how to handle our questions and doubts. And we have them. It’s not always easy for us to believe. We are more like Thomas than we know or care to admit. And I suggest to you that that’s not so bad. For if we can use our doubts and questions like Thomas did ‑ to help strengthen our faith ‑ then we will be better disciples of Jesus Christ.

If we had only the first three Gospels, the only thing we would know about Thomas is his name ‑ for that’s all they tell us.  Thomas is often paired with Matthew as one of the twelve disciples Jesus chose. “Thomas” is the Hebrew word for “twin.” He is also called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.” Obviously Thomas had a twin brother or sister who is never named. (One tradition says his twin was Lydia of Philippi, the seller of purple cloth who was converted by Paul).

So we have to look at the Gospel of John to get real insights into just who Thomas was.

Turn with me to John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.

This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).

They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:

Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die  with him!”

Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life. Thomas loved Jesus and was ferociously loyal to him. How many of us have been willing to follow Jesus, to let it be known that we are one of his disciples even if it might cost us greatly?

We also see here that Thomas leaned toward pessimism. “Let us go along with him, so that we can die too!” Thomas tended to expect the worst.

Someone said: pessimist is someone “who can look at the land of milk and honey and see only calories and cholesterol.”

Thomas instructs us even in this. It was difficult for him to follow Jesus for he was a natural born pessimist. It’s easier for an optimist for he always expects the best. But for Thomas, certain as he was that disaster awaited them, this was a tremendous act of faith and loyalty. Just because he was pessimistic, that was no reason to stop following where Jesus led. We, too, must not let a pessimistic attitude keep us from following Christ’s lead, even if we have grave doubts about just where we’re gonna end up.

Now turn to John 14.

Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going away to prepare them a room in the Father’s house. “You know the way that leads to the place where I am going,” he says. But notice what Thomas says in verse 5: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Thomas  wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even to Jesus, when he didn’t understand something. And I’ll tell you this, Jesus never put him down for it or anyone who came to him with an honest doubt or question. For such a person is seeking to believe. The honest doubters and questioners did not bother Jesus as much as the know‑it‑alls, those like the Pharisees who would not open their hearts and minds to the truth he taught.

Thomas had questions. He asked them because he wanted to understand. I can identify with that. All my life I have been full of questions and even some doubts from time to time..

Doubts, questions does not have to be the enemies of faith, but can be an allies. And I tell you something else, if someone has never had any doubts or questions, I wonder if they have ever really thought about their faith or know what they believe. Often we do not really understand what we believe until some question, some doubt arises that makes us pray, study, talk, search for answers.

And I’ll tell you something else. A person who asks questions and even doubts doesn’t mean he or she has no faith. To the contrary, I think it shows that they take their faith seriously, so seriously that they want to understand and grow ‑ just like Thomas.

Now turn with me to John 20.

It’s the first Easter evening. The disciples had gathered behind locked doors out of fear of the authorities. Suddenly, Jesus is with them in the room. They see his hands and side. And they are filled with unspeakable joy. But look at verse 24. It reads,

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (called the Twin),  was not with them when Jesus came.

I think Thomas wasn’t with them because his heart was broken. He was in deep pain. Just as he thought ‑ it had ended in a disaster even worse than he had imagined. Jesus had been arrest, tried, crucified and been dead three days. It was over. The man he had followed for three years, the man who he loved more than his own life, was dead. To gather with the others was just too painful a reminder of all this. So Thomas chose to withdraw and suffer alone.

Seems to me, my friends, that when we are hurt or in deep distress like Thomas, we have a tendency to do one of two things ‑ withdraw and suffer in silence, cut ourselves off from others, or reach out and embrace our family, friends.

Thomas chose to withdraw. And because he did, he missed out on the one thing that would have turned his sorrow into joy ‑ the presence of the Risen Christ!

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To withdraw from the fellowship of the Christian family is to miss out on that special sense of the presence of Christ that gives us tremendous peace and joy. And, I think, as Thomas discovered, it is only within that fellowship that we begin to have our questions and doubts resolved.

The disciples, so excited, rush out and find Thomas. They use the very same words that Mary and the other women had used, “We have seen the Lord!” And Thomas makes that reply for which he has become famous or infamous, “Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).

Thomas gets a bad rap because we think he’s the only one who felt this way. Wrong! Luke 24:11 says that when the women came to them and said, “We have seen the Lord!” that no one one believed them. The disciples thought it was nonsense! And here in John 20 we see that they did not believe until they had seen the Risen Lord, his hands and his side. THEN they believed. Thomas was acting no differently than they had. In fact, he’s just more upfront and honest about his doubts.

A week later the disciples gather again and this time Thomas is with them. Like before, Jesus appears to them, “Peace be with you,” he says. Then Jesus turns to Thomas and offers to allow him to touch his hands and his side. We’re not told if Thomas did this. I personally do not think he did. He fell on his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas openly admitted his doubts, he faced them, and worked through them to the greatest confession of faith in Christ in the whole New Testament!

Tradition says that after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples divided up the world for evangelism. Thomas got India. There is a church in India that traces its roots back to Thomas. And I understand there’s a Saint Thomas Mount where, I believe, tradition says Thomas was killed while praying. We don’t know if any of this is true, but such faith, loyalty, courage and love for Christ would certainly be in keeping with what we know about Thomas.

So don’t let anyone tell you to stop asking questions or to suppress all your doubts. Ask them. Talk about them with those you trust. Don’t let them drive you away from the Christian fellowship but to it, for chances are the Risen Lord will help answers your doubts and questions as you gather with his people to worship, share, pray and serve. Make your questions and doubts lead you, like Thomas, to a greater faith.

Amen.

Easter Sunday sermon 20 April 2014 – Don’t be afraid…

Readings

Colossians 3:1-4

Col 3:1  So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Matthew 28:1-10

Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Mat 28:7  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection

How many times have you been in a cemetery?

I was outside one on Thursday night – and it seemed a good place to talk about Easter.

Most people don’t hang out in cemeteries. They went into St Marys church rather than hang around the dark gloomy cemetery on Thursday.

In fact we avoid dead bodies generally.

Story

I read an account this week of a pastor who had to travel about an hour with an undertaker to a cemetery for a burial. He wasn’t feeling well and by the time they got to the graveside service, the pastor was really crook. Sick as … to use the local jargon.

He croaked his way through the service – pardon the pun – and the job was done.

After the family left, the very nice funeral director suggested he might feel better if he lay down in the back of the hearse for the long trip back.

What he had forgotten was that he had to stop for petrol on the way home – those big Cadillacs are gas guzzlers.

You can imagine the chaos while the attendant was filling up the car – when the pastor sat up in the back of the hearse and looked out the window.

The attendant ran like the wind – abandoning his duties!

People are not good with dead bodies. Back in the day you had to make your own coffin and organise things – lay the dead out – dig a hole and bury them. You had to do it yourself – well not your own funeral but family members.

Undertakers undertake that for us now. They direct funerals.

Jesus’ friends had to do it too. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were the ones. And when the women went to the tomb on the 3rd day it was do complete the proper funeral matters as things had been rushed on the day of Jesus’ death.

They were much better with dead bodies than we are today.

What we have in common with them – was that they did not expect dead bodies to disappear or for the dead to get up that often. If at all. Dead bodies that move can really spook people.

It’s no wonder that there was chaos in Matthew’s account of that first Resurrection day. The day we worship on – Sunday.

The ones who copped it really badly were the Roman guards. They had an angel, an earthquake, and a  stone moving in a cemetery.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 

One writer puts it like this:

The quiet of the dawn is interrupted by the earth’s quaking and by the appearance of an angel that requires contradictory images to describe. He is riding the earth’s quaking, flashing like lightning, and dressed in snow! He is powerful enough to roll away the stone in front of the tomb and then, calmly, to sit on it. It is no wonder that the guards shake and fall over as if dead, when they see him. Actually, the guards quake, as with fear. The Greek translated “shook” in the NRSV (v. 4) is directly related to the Greek word for “earthquake” (v. 2). The guards shiver and shake; they quake and pass out from fear.

(Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 12716-12720). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)

Things are shaken up in every way.

The truth is that things are shaken up in every way in our lives. And I suspect the shaking is going to get worse.

It’s the angel’s calling card – or greeting – that is key.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

And of course Jesus says the same:

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And later when he appeared in locked rooms, He said “peace be with you”.

“Do not be afraid” and “peace be with you” are really helpful to us to when life gets shaken up.

The heart of it is the resurrection of Jesus. We worship him now because he was raised and lives forever.

We trust Him still because the good news of His overcoming death puts everything into its proper place.

And His promise to be with us is real too.

He tells them – in this account – to go back to Galilee.

That’s the place where the action was – and life was to go on for His team of followers as they spread the good news. The gospel of Jesus and the resurrection was proclaimed to all they could reach and eventually touched the whole known world.

On Christmas Day 1814 – almost 200 years ago this good news came to New Zealand when the first Christian sermon was preached by Samuel Marsden up in the Bay of Islands.

This Gospel has shaped this nation in ways not recognised by many.

The reconciliation between God and man through Christ has implications for culture and conflict alike. A lot changed in those early years because of this Gospel.

Peace – tolerance – and a new nation based on mutual respect was born – with Christian missionaries at the centre.

  • In this new generation the same Gospel has relevance for this nation and this city of ours.
  • Christ is alive and still at work. It’s up to us whether we want to be part of what the risen Lord is doing today – and if we let Him use us!

He still says “don’t be afraid” and “peace be with you” in every kind of conceivable situation – in many lives of people from all corners of the world.

We praise his wonderful name! We have been raised with Christ, says Paul in our other reading for today! Look up! Look to God and His ways:. He says:

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Through faith and by our baptism we too have died and we are raised up by his resurrection. We already live in a different zone.  Our priorities change to line up with God’s purpose – and we are never the same again.

Amen.