Readings: Isaiah 64:1-8; Galatians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:5-9;
How are you when it comes to intimacy? I’ve been reflecting on the word, and how different people see things differently when it comes to matchmaking. You get these programs on TV where people who don’t know each other are married off – and you wait to see whether the marriage will survive. There’s another program where they try to find the farmer a wife. Reminds me of the kids’ song we used to sing?
“The farmer in the dell.” It has a second verse: “The farmer takes a wife (x2) – Hey-ho the derry-o the farmer takes a wife.” You may remember the verses. Farmer – wife- child – nurse – cow- dog – cat – mouse – cheese – the cheese stands alone at the end. It originated in Germany for what it’s worth.
It reminds me of the classic story about a farmer who was single and wanted a wife. The farmer put an ad in a newspaper that read: “Man, 35, wants woman about 25 with tractor. Send picture of tractor.”
Problem with intimacy it seems? Rather business like. Cerebral perhaps – all about thinking and planning and rationalising things. If I could just get a new tractor… Let me think…
Presbyterians are historically a rather cerebral lot. Intellect is really important. That’s why ministers are often trained to a level that defies common sense. University faculties sometimes get people thinking right out of their faith. But you can understand the commitment to training and knowledge. And nobody wants to base their faith on feelings.
You can’t base your marriage on feelings either. Yes I’m married, no I’m not… Best get the marriage certificate out as it states a fact!
Feelings and emotions change too much.
Intimacy is a little different though. It’s not necessarily driven by emotion – there is emotion involved but at its heart – I think – there is certainty and trust. A sense of safety and warm connection.
It’s right there in Jesus’ prayer life – in the calling of God “Father” or “Abba” which is almost like daddy. Most of the time its “Father”. Especially in John’s gospel where he uses the phrase repetitively.
And “Abba” – which twice is referred to in relationship to the Holy Spirit by Paul (in Galatians 4:6 which we read and the well-known Romans 8:15) – is used specifically by Jesus in Mark 14:36 when he prays in Gethsemane. At the toughest time of trial – he calls on Abba.
That has to be one of the most intimate prayer moments – facing the cup of suffering.You need to be close to God in a crisis!
When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray – it begins with “Father” or “Our Father”. You saw the differences between Luke and Matthew’s record of this two weeks ago when we looked at the Lord’s prayer.
The idea of God as Father is not entirely new in the New Testament.
It does crop up in the Old Testament occasionally.
Isaiah 64 is a great example which we heard today.
It’s a famous passage used in prayers for revival and sermons about revival. That desire for God to really move in power to stir people up to repentance, faith and spiritual fervour and commitment.
Listen again: Isa 64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! Isa 64:2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!
What is the prophet seeking? The presence and power of God. He prays that God would tear open the heavens and come down and shake things up on earth.
In verse two he prays that God would come down and make his name known to enemies and nations.
And while Isaiah wrestles with this desire for God to tear open the heavens and make his presence and his name known, he recognises that it had happened before. Look at verse 3:
Isa 64:3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
And then there’s this wonderful expression of faith and hope: Isa 64:4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
Ring any bells? Paul quotes and expands this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 2 where he writes in verses 9 and 10: 1Co 2:9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—1Co 2:10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Again it’s the work of the Holy Spirit who makes these things known to us.
There is a beauty and an intimacy in this expression of God’s love and promise for those who love him. What he has in store for us is beyond expectation entirely.
Paul captures some of this expectation in his doxology in Ephesians 3:
Eph 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, Eph 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
The stumbling block in Isaiah’s time is the sin that separates people from God. He continues to wrestle with this in the next three verses:
Isa 64:5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? Isa 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isa 64:7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.
A brother of mine walked into my office the other day – concerned that we might become over-confident in our own righteousness – rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ – and dumped a gift on my desk. Guess what it was? A really filthy rag. I think he had Isaiah 64:6 in mind.
HERE’S A QUESTION:
Are you not troubled today by the excess of sin and shameful behaviour in the world, the flagrant disregard for truth and justice?
Of course the difference is that Isaiah is praying about the people of God – who should have known better. There was a remnant seeking Him of course.
So – there is always hope. The passage ends with this beautiful line:
Isa 64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
So God as Father is not a new idea that Jesus invents.
But he does own it. And particularly in John’s gospel where there are more than a hundred occurrences.
SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS?
Following Jesus, knowing God as Father is really fundamental to our faith.
Some helpful suggestions.
- Don’t get your idea or picture of God muddied by any bad experience you may have had of a human father.
It’s a different thing. This is the Holy Father who is just, and has our best interests at heart.
When we let our image of a failed earthly father cloud our view of our Heavenly Father’s love and faithfulness, it can be a deception of the devil to blind us to the reality of this heavenly Father’s love and care for us. The devil is the father of lies remember. (John 8:44)
- Focus on your communication with this Father. Prayer is everything.
The context of Jesus’ teaching on this prayer pattern – which is not really the Lord’s prayer but the believers’ prayer – people praying out loud in the synagogue, and later pagans and their long-winded prayers.
Listen again: Mat 6:5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.Mat 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
This room – or closet – is really an inner room. The point is that intimacy is not meant for the public eye. And there is a huge difference between public prayer and private prayer. When you lead people in prayer – you take them into the presence of God and help them with key points to focus on.It’s not about you – but it’s all about all of us.
When you pray on your own – while you can’t avoid praying for everyone else – you can spill your guts – open your heart – and really tell your Father how you feel.
- You can ask God all the hard questions.
- You can say it like it is.
- And you can balance the hard questions with counting your blessings and thanksgiving and gratitude.
But don’t stay there – focusing only on the hard questions. Because your loving heavenly Father really wants to embrace you. Wait on God. Be still in His presence.
Let God speak to you. Through intuitive thoughts – through ideas he pops in your mind – and especially through the bible.
And look at the second part of verse 6 again: Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
What an interesting line. We kind of avoid the notion of reward. We are allergic to any idea that suggests we earn salvation or God’s love.
That truth remains. We don’t earn salvation. You can’t buy it through years of service.
But it is God’s nature to want to bless us as His children. He rewards us with a greater sense of faith and certainty, confidence and courage – and an overwhelming sense of being loved and safe in His hands.
Those private times of prayer are important. It has been suggested that you find a place – and have a notebook with your bible. The notebook is to write down thoughts and ideas you get – but also you need a separate column for when you have distractions – like things to do – jot them down separately and put them aside.
Focus on God’s presence. And a prayer book is helpful too. The NZ Anglican prayer book has daily prayers for each morning and evening.
These help us focus. There are other prayer aids. And listening to hymns and worship songs helps us focus on the Lord too.
In Matthew 6 Jesus continues: Mat 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.
Mat 6:8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
You don’t need to go on and on. Don’t babble like pagans! That’s pretty direct isn’t it?
Don’t be like them.
This is your Father who knows what you need before you ask Him.
Watch out for the long shopping list. He knows.
In a close relationship you can also sit in silence.
Sometimes all you have to do is groan. Do you remember that passage from Romans 8 – a few verses after the Abba Father verse (v15)? Listen to it again:
Rom 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom 8:23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
We groan in despair at fallen world and long for the new creation – we experience the firstfruits and long for the completion of the new creation. We have this taste of the perfection to come.
We have our new status now – but the full inheritance as sons is yet to come.
I want to end with an old story – forgive me if you’ve heard it before – but it really is helpful to explain what is yet to come. It’s called “The Fork”.
There was a Christian lady who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.
“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?”, the woman asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main courses were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favourite part because I knew that something better was coming…like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of Heaven than most Christians did.
She KNEW that something better was coming.
At her funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favourite Bible, and the fork placed in her right hand.
Over and over, the pastor heard the question “What’s with the fork?”
And over and over he smiled.
During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT NOW
Remember John 14 J Jesus speaking to them before his death: Joh 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. Joh 14:2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
We can be really intimate with the Father now – and the place where we will end up is the Father’s house.
When you pray – start with “Father” or “our Father”. And stay with Him. Remain with Him.As a child is safe in His father’s presence.
Hold onto that truth every moment of the day. It defines who we are and what we will become.
Thank you Father.
Reading: Matthew 20:1-16
It’s no surprise that the parable today is in direct response to our main character through the story. I wonder who that could be, you may be thinking. Why Peter, of course.
In the previous chapter is that challenging saying about the young man who turned away. The rich young ruler. Remember him? Listen again: Mat 19:23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Mat 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Mat 19:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Mat 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Mat 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
The bit at the end of Matthew 19 is for you to read at home. Especially verse 28 – I bet you’re surprised by that one.
At the end of Matthew 19 Jesus says to Peter: Mat 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Mat 19:30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
And then Chapter 20 begins with the word “for”. Remember that there were no chapters at the beginning when the bible was written. Not even spaces between the letters of the early bible. So here we go then:
Mat 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.
It’s addressed to people who have left everything to follow Jesus, and applies to every generation. Things are upside down in terms of this Kingdom. This is a unique parable about the Kingdom and God’s grace in the kingdom. It ends again with Mat 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
So let’s consider firstly what’s the parable is not about!
- It’s not about trade unions and fair wages. Elsewhere in scripture it’s very clear that workers are to be paid properly.
- It’s not about lazy people. There’s a temptation by those who have never been without anything, especially a job, to look at those standing around doing nothing and say “lazy bunch – why don’t they get a job?”
I don’t know if you’ve lived anywhere where people stand around near a work and income/person power or labour office hoping that someone will hire them for the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s terribly discouraging. It’s common in big cities.
Looking after workers and the needy is part of the biblical standard given to us. If you want a biblical reference for this read Leviticus 19:
Lev 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Lev 19:10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. Lev 19:11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. Lev 19:12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. Lev 19:13 “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
And of course Deuteronomy: Deu 24:14 Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deu 24:15 Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
Verse 15 gives us a clue: Mat 20:15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
If the Landowner in the extended simile is God – then he is both generous and sovereign.
And it’s the labourers who were hired at the beginning of the day that the landowner has issues with. Or the ones that had issues with the Landowner.
And this verse 15 is a fascinating one – which actually says this: (BBE) Have I not the right to do as seems good to me in my house? or is your eye evil, because I am good?
The idea of a bad or evil eye takes us back to Matthew 6. Mat 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.Mat 6:23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
And of course in this passage the concept of the evil eye is translated with words like “jealous” or “envious”. And jealousy and envy are aspects or manifestations of the breaking of the last commandment – do not covet. It’s all about what and how you see things. And what we want for ourselves.
A comment in the Life Application Study Bible says this: Spiritual vision is our capacity to see clearly what God wants us to do and to see the world from his point of view. But this spiritual insight can be easily clouded. Self-serving desires, interests, and goals block that vision. Serving God is the best way to restore it. A “good” eye is one that is fixed on God.
It’s about how you see things and how you judge them. About whether you have an eye for the things of the Kingdom or whether your shades have dollar signs on them – or “me, me, me” as a filter – whether you think of your own reward first like Peter. It puts his complaint in context:
Mat 19:27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”
His complaint does rather sound like a whining petulant child now. It has this “unfair” kind of feeling implied. Like the people hired at the beginning of the day for a fair wage who are resentful of the Johnny-come-lately people whom the Landowner gets in at the last minute – and pays the same rate for the day.
The Landowner is totally fair and keeps his agreed deal with the workers who worked all day. What they don’t get is how the 11.00th hour people also get that same wage.
This is grace revealed. Generous grace. It’s about the character of the Landowner, who represents God in the parable.
SOME SIMILAR BIBLICAL EXAMPLES MIGHT HELP:
- Like the penitent thief on the cross. No baptism – no catechism – no chance to serve in endless duties at church. Just grace.
Can you think of others?
- Perhaps the elder brother in the Prodigal Son story comes to mind – whining that his dad was throwing a party for the prodigal who was so selfish and who squandered everything. One commentator reflecting on this says the words of the elder brother might be like this: There are the sounds of a party in progress. “My brother is receiving a celebration? What is going on here? This is certainly not fair.” Jarvis, Cynthia A. (2013-12-09). Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 2 (Kindle Locations 4518-4519). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
SO WHAT ABOUT US
In every church (certainly in the 6 or more I have served in over the years), you get the workers who have served there for many years, some of whom believe they are entitled to more reward because of years of service. A meritorious kind of status.
The Kingdom of God is not like that. There is no ladder of importance really – we all are recipients of gifts from God. But the moment we treat the church as our club, then there will be a pecking order of some sort.
So is this about the church today? In fact Tom Wright’s thoughts are helpful – he writes with church people in mind – doing church stuff:
God’s grace, in short, is not the sort of thing you can bargain with or try to store up. It isn’t the sort of thing that one person can have a lot of and someone else only a little. The point of the story is that what people get from having served God and his kingdom is not, actually, a ‘wage’ at all. It’s not, strictly, a reward for work done. God doesn’t make contracts with us, as if we could bargain or negotiate for a better deal. He makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowingly generous nature.
There is always a danger that we get cross with God over this. People who work in church circles can easily assume that they are the special ones, God’s inner circle. In reality, God is out in the marketplace, looking for the people everybody else tried to ignore, welcoming them on the same terms, surprising them (and everybody else) with his generous grace. The earliest church clearly needed to learn that lesson. Is there anywhere in today’s church that doesn’t need to be reminded of it as well? Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 57-58). SPCK. Kindle Edition.
Amazing and generous grace is revealed in the character who portrays the nature of God.
Do you know this God? May you come to discover his amazing grace.
And like the shepherd who leaves the 99 to look for the lost sheep, the Landowner (God) is out in the marketplace seeking those in need and inviting them to participate in a different vineyard in his upside down Kingdom.