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Sunday 29 March 2015 – sermon for Palm Sunday

Readings: Psalm 118:19-29; Matthew 21:1-13

Sermon                                                                                                           Palm Sunday

I wonder what you thought about the cricket world-cup spectacle. Especially during the matches where there is great fanfare and celebration at the end of play. Whoever wins at the end of the day – there are fireworks and loud music plays. All the modern trimmings of a victory parade. A spectacle. Interviews – reports – and assuming that the black caps have won (I am writing this before knowing who will face them in the final – blue or yellow) – great celebration and jubilation!

There have been other spectacles this week. Including the tragic crashing of a plane – where the pilot is alleged to have said: “one day I will do something that will change the system… and everyone will know my name and remember me.” A tragic spectacle and way of being remembered.

And then there is an interesting spectacle in the form of a bye-election result over night in Northland! Say no more! Political grandstanding can also be a spectacle – an event of sorts. With their own victory parades.

So back to the cricket final later today. The headline I saw was this: “Black caps captain Brendon McCullum leads his men into battle against Australia today in a historic cricket world cup final.” The black cap captain put it this way in an interview: it “creates the greatest stage we can ask for.”

These are spectacles – great events involving public statements and celebrations or commiserations.

Palm Sunday was a bit like that. Except there were no fireworks and no TV coverage.

Loyalty and recognition are central in these things. Which brings us to the Palm Sunday crowd. Where would you have been positioned on that day?

THE CROWDS on Palm Sunday

Traditionally we have given them a hard time. Not really a good thing to be cheering for Jesus and then calling for his execution a few days later. Even though it preaches well. I have told children’s stories with this line – “yay for Jesus! Away with Jesus!” Such fickle people! I have preached along those lines many times on Palm Sunday.

But is it true? We gloss over the text (as preachers) – and often miss on the subtleties.

It seems actually that we are dealing with two groups of people   – the crowds who came along with him (likely to be his followers and especially those who were touched by him and healed), and the city – meaning the people of Jerusalem who were kind of perplexed. Who is this and what is this all about?

We see this in verses 10 and 11: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”  The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I am sure that even those who were healed and obviously over the moon about Jesus would not really understand what it meant when he was received as a King.

But they were happy with the notion of a prophet (who speaks and acts for God) and they seemed okay that he was from Nazareth (not a great pedigree!).

The disciples had other ideas about him being King. Just in the chapter before (Matthew 20) Jesus had to remind them of the nature of his kingship. James and John’s mother is asking for favours for them. Have a look at the chapter before our reading for today:

Mat 20:20  Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

Mat 20:21  “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Mat 20:22  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.

Mat 20:23  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

Mat 20:24  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Mat 20:25  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Mat 20:26  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, Mat 20:27  and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— Mat 20:28  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

The disciples knew – or should have known better – that his kingship was different.

The crowds were moved, however. One way or the other this was a significant moment. They responded!

But a crowd involves individuals making choices. It was still a personal response. We should remember that they would only have had one cloak – which they spread on the road.

They would have known an example of this from their bibles – one hopes – for example when Elisha sent one of his team to anoint Jehu as King in second Kings – this is what happened: 2Ki 9:13 They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

Tom Wright also says  this: In the long folk-memory of Jerusalem and its surrounding villages, stories were still told, and some of them by this stage were written down, about the famous Judas Maccabaeus who, 200 years before, had arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies that had oppressed Israel. He, too, was welcomed into the city by a crowd waving palm branches (2 Maccabees 10.7). And he was the start of a royal dynasty that lasted for over a hundred years. Indeed, the Herod family had intermarried with the Maccabaean family, and the chief priests claimed a similar status.

People who throw down their cloaks like that are actually making a statement about what they think is going on. There is loyalty involved! And royalty! The person welcomed and hailed as king or conqueror would have to be worthy of the honour and sacrificial response – especially of laying down your only cloak in his path. I can’t think of a modern equivalent – except perhaps at a concert when people throw things onto the stage?

Of course there is the more recent (than Jesus) story of Sir Walter Raleigh who threw down his cloak for Queen Elizabeth the first so she didn’t have to walk in the mud!

It doesn’t happen often today for leaders and politicians. They usually have a whole team organizing those kinds of things.

SIGNS OF A KING – albeit a different one.

There were clear signs of a King. The fulfillment of prophesy is there. And the key title that crops up: “Son of David!” Jerusalem had been his capital city a thousand years earlier – and they were hoping for a King like David to rescue them from oppression.

And to be fairer to the crowds who hailed him as King (perhaps some of his actual entourage did run away) – it’s not that easy when your leader is arrested. The Roman armies were pretty savage – and not to be messed with. If you see savage armies at work today (and we do daily on our TV screens), you may get a sense of how frightening it would have been.

But the expectation was there – for Him to be King on their terms – in line with the hope that they would be liberated eventually. They had very different expectations. He was not coming to win a war – but to be killed.

HOW DO WE RESPOND?

I think we sometimes want Jesus to be available on our terms according to our agenda as well. Tom Wright puts it this way: The meaning Jesus attaches to this so-called ‘triumphal entry’ is quite different from the meaning they are wanting to see in it. That, perhaps, is where we can learn most from this story today. People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are.*

* Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Matthew for Everyone Part 2: Pt. 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 69). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

OUR RESPONSE as individuals and a group – some final thoughts. 

Consider these:

  • What would we need to lay down before Jesus today? (Individual answers will be unique really) – sacrificing in some way? Laying down your only cloak: – sacrificial living and giving?
  • Is there some other way we need to give honour to Jesus? What kind of King is he to us today?
  • Are we afraid too? Referring back to the “fickle” crowd. They would have been afraid when Jesus was arrested.
  • Remember the cry “Hosanna” – Hoshiana (v25 of Psalm 118) – which means “save us!” It has become a praise word. It is a song of Passover, which included the line – blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. What do we need saving from? Only you can answer that.
  • Do we allow him to be a prophet to us? Speaking into our lives and cleansing our temples? Is our church also used as a pious hideout while needy people are outside on the margins.

And then the consequences in the temple are worth noting: Mat 21:14  The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Mat 21:15  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. Mat 21:16  “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”

  • He turns the temple into a place of healing (the blind and the lame would have been excluded from the temple). With Jesus in the temple worship becomes truly life giving. Is Jesus’ reign manifested beyond our church – where people are really transformed – by the life giving words?
  • The children cry out – and the authorities are rattled by that. Are we? It’s a threat to the chief priests and the scribes. “Do you hear what they are saying” – he responds with Psalm 8:2 – “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” 
  • He is the king who saves instead of oppressing. Heals instead of exploiting! This is a totally different Kingship in every sense. He is the Saviour King.

So do we acknowledge him – wave branches and declare his praises – in our lives? We would do well to go back to Matthew 10:32-3 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

He still makes claims on our lives. Let’s listen to Him especially through this Easter week.

Amen.

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10 March 2015 Tuesday Church – For all nations…

Reading: Mark 11:15-19

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Message – Easter

Easter is just around the corner. It’s been closer than you think for some months – considering how early Easter eggs appear on the shelves in our shops.

In the story as Mark tells it, Jesus had come into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and had gone out again to Bethany. The next day he comes back into the city – it’s a kind of sortie into a dangerous place really. The authorities would be aware of him – considering all the fuss when he road into the city on a donkey. And now he comes to the heart of the nation – the temple. Well listen again:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

We sometimes think it’s just about the money – that they were cheating the poor when they sold animals for sacrifices to them – or exchanging money and giving them a bad rate.

The thing is – He wasn’t really changing the system – the trading would have carried on the next day.

The real challenge was to the heart of the nation. Listen again:

17 And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it “a den of robbers”.’

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

The real issue was that God was not stuck in the temple and fussing over them alone as the chosen people. Even Solomon when he built his temple said this: 1 Kings 8:27  “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! That was on the day of the consecration of the temple!

It was more the teaching that stirred up the opposition. It was a threat. The house of prayer “for all nations” sounds like a real concern for others outside of the family of Israel. And it wasn’t just about the money tables, as if you can separate money from spiritual things.

The chief priests and teachers of the law begin looking for ways to kill him – because they feared him. They didn’t want the crowd to follow him because they would lose control. It was all about power.

How strange that they “feared him” – this man of compassion and love who healed the sick and taught them about God as Father.

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy of course. Tom Wright says this about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple:

But Jesus’ protest was far deeper, and if we applied it today it wouldn’t just be the churches that ought to tremble, but the lawcourts and legislative assemblies, the royal palaces and banking centres, the places where power is so often wielded to the benefit of the already powerful and the downtreading of the already powerless, the places where people with power or wealth turn in on themselves instead of outwards in generosity towards the world. That’s where Jesus wants to stride today, to turn over tables and drive out traders. *

Amen.

* Wright, N. T. (2004-01-01). Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 153). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

 

Sunday sermon 17 November – Temples, Troubles and Testimonies

churchReading:  Luke 21:5-19

Sermon

A story to begin: So Jesus comes to Browns Bay Presbyterian. And it’s just before the 50th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone here. 2015. The anniversary committee has worked hard to refurbish the place. We celebrate the lives of all who have put their money into the work here. Generous and hard-working people. And Jesus says in a rather offhand manner – “It will all be destroyed one of these days. Not one block or brick will be left standing on another”. All gone!

Spoiling the party? Maybe. That’s basically what verse 5 and 6 of Luke 21 says: Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God.

As he said back then: (But Jesus said,) 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’

The altar of the temple would have been beautifully adorned, and each stone carefully cut. He had watched the rich give their offerings and the poor widow who gave her all – jus before this.

And that temple – well it took longer to build than our church building has been standing here.  When Jesus refers to it in John’s gospel – it had been undergoing 46 years of rebuilding begun by Herod and was not yet finished.

Jesus had already alarmed them when he said in John 2:19-20: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

And of course in Matthew  – in the context over a discussion about the Sabbath – he also said:  “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” (Matt 12:6)

Like people today – they are really interested in the timing of these things. v7 ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’

How do we know when this will happen? All those movies about the apocalype and the end of the world speak of our facination with this theme.

How do we know WHEN? Well that’s a tricky thing really. By the time Luke wrote this down (remember that initially everything was by word of mouth) the temple would have been destroyed by the Romans – in AD 70. Part of these words were fufilled back then – and part speak of things yet to come (like the book of Revelation).

Jesus is happy to give them an answer:

v8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. v9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’

v10 Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. v11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

v12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

For years ever since these words were spoken – people have been speculating about the end times. All kinds of people have sold everything up and waited in white robes on a hillside for Jesus to beam them up – only to come down cold and hungry after a few days to look for a job or apply for a benefit.

Mark 13:32 is a key verse here:   “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  This verse has fascinating implications and raises interesting questions for the curious. Jesus didn’t know back then – as a human being. Does he know now? Or does the Father still keep his cards close to his chest.

Speculation about when is not helpful if this knowledge is such a closely guarded secret.

There are important points that we can be sure of however.

1.      Here’s the first key thing that comes out of all these passages:

  Watchfulness! Be alert! Mark’s passage goes on:

Mar 13:33  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Mar 13:34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Mar 13:35  “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

Mar 13:36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

Mar 13:37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!'”

One way or another – this could be your last day – and you should always keep short accounts and be ready!

2.      Here’s the second key thing: Nothing is permanent. The temple – built so carefully with all those beautiful gifts – is only a shell – what happened in it matters.

So too this church. It’s all temporary. Ask the people of Christchurch. Ask the people washed away by that Tsunami in Japan. As the people of the Philippines today. They will testify to the temporary nature of things material.

I know last week we acknowledged those who have been faithful in stewardship and support of the ministry here – and that we benefit from the generosity of others in having use of our facilities.

But don’t place too much emphasis on stuff – like buildings. The whole lot will eventually come down. Like the Temple.

The Kingdom of God is about other things. People – relationships – love – and mostly worship of God and seeking to do and be what he wants us to do or be.

Our home group shared about faith and action this week – about random acts of kindness – about serving others – like last week’s message about sacrificial love  – that’s what matters.

3.      And the final key point – is this. This is an opportunity to testify! Here’s the rest of the passage:

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me.14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

The third point is in verse 13.

13 And so you will bear testimony to me. – in the NIV. A better translation in the NRSV is this:

13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.  This is about opportunities to testify.

And the context is not a church service where people give a testimony. Rather it is when we are brought before the authorities – because of our faith.

Christendom is dead. Christianity is no longer the religion of the Empire – from the Roman Empire to the British Empire – it was fashionable and socially acceptable to be a Christian. It is no longer. One of the hardest places today to be a Christian is in Britain – where many of our ancestors came from. And in Post-Christian Europe. And it is becoming progressively harder in our country.

Instead of lamenting this – we need to see that like the early church we have an alternative story – a different narrative – a God-perspective on life.

Testifying for them – back during those phases before Constantine where Christians were persecuted on and off (depending on who was Emperor at the time) – bearing testimony was closely related to martyrdom. In fact the word in the original text is marturion.

What we say under pressure is the key witness to Jesus.

Some bonus points aregiven by Jesus here:

a.      Don’t prepare in advance (14-15) – he will give us words and wisdom. That may seem risky, but it is a faith and trust thing.

b.      Family and friends could hand you over (16) – this is messy and you could be killed. It is risky for many who leave their family’s faith or non-faith to follow Christ.

c.      You will be hated because of Jesus (17) – by everyone! Clearly courage was and is reqiured.

d.      You will keep your hair on (18) – what does this mean?  * This reflects the extent of God’s care for us and his knowledge of us.

e.      Stand firm and win life! (19) – endurance is the key! “Endurance” appears more than 30 times in the letters of the NT.

* The hair thing may also be about safety and destruction issues – not the risk of baldness or an obsession with hair counting! People who served God did not cut their hair as a sign (the Nazirites – like Samson in Judges 13 and 14) – and judgement and destruction were symbolised by shaving and therefore losing hair (See Isaiah 7:17-20). (Nazir = consecrated, set apart.)

Nothing will touch those set apart for God! Which leads logically to the last point:  v19 By your endurance you will gain your souls. (NASV) Or in the NIV: Stand firm, and you will win life.

  • Be watchful and  alert!
  • Keep perspective – because nothing is permanent!
  • There will be an opportunity to testify! And stand firm – endure. And you will win your life or your soul.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 6 May – Plugged into Jesus

Readings: Acts 8: 26-40 and John 15:1-8

MESSAGE

I was never good at Maths! But I have come to understand the ideas of Paul Hiebert about sets – in relation to people and organisations! There are two kinds of sets – he suggests. Bounded sets – and centred sets.  He wrote about this about 30 years ago! A bounded set is a group – an organisation that we belong to – because we’ve recognised that you have to cross some kind of line to get there. For example – if you join a club, you agree up front on the rules and expectations, including dress code and fees. Churches have traditionally been like this – you had to apply to be a member and read the expectations first (helpful) and then agree to abide by them.

I recently encountered a local church that has as a requirement of membership that you attend church twice on Sundays. By joining you agreed to that. No exceptions. And in the organisation all pastors have to offer two services every week. All churches have minimum expectations for members like this – and the basic one is Baptism which should come with a public profession of faith. And with this comes certain responsibilities and privileges.

A great example in Bible history of a bounded set is found in the reading from Acts today. The travelling treasurer – a eunuch from Ethiopia who went to Jerusalem – encounters Philip the evangelist on the road. This man had come to worship! (v27). It is not surprizing that an Ethiopian should do that. There had been Jews in Ethiopia since the time of King Solomon. (Isaiah 11:11 and 56:4-5 refer to Ethiopia and to eunuchs by the way).

The Jewish organisation of the day was a bounded set – as was seen in the structure of the temple – which had a series of areas that people were not allowed into.  This temple had been developed by Herod the Great over 40 years – and was like a wonder of the ancient world! People travelled from all over the Mediterranean region and Asia to see it. It was like the Taj Mahal today – or Christchurch’s cathedral when it was standing. People marvelled at it.

But only Jews really belonged and had access. And the requirement for being a Jew (circumcision) was a serious business – plus adherence to many laws!

If you were a traveller and not Jewish you could get into the outer court (of the Gentiles). But no further.  Odd really because when you read the Old Testament it was clear that what they had was to be for all the nations! The God they worshiped was the God of all the earth. Listen to Psalm 22 which is one of the readings for today: 27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

So when this Eunuch comes in Acts 8 – all the way from African Ethiopia – a long way in his chariot – he would have had limited access. In fact Deuteronomy 23:1 specifically excluded men like him: No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.

Others also had restrictions – look for example at the court of the women. Ritually pure Jewish women of course were allowed. There were specific exclusions for those who had menstruated or had had sexual intercourse and so forth.

Then there was the Court of Israel. The men only – and again ritually pure men! There are similar things that would have excluded men.

The real temple area – the Sanctuary – was for ritually pure priests and Levites. Nice music, prayer and sweet smelling incense for them only.

And then there was this enormous curtain at the rear of the Sanctuary where you found the Holy of Holies! The high priest went in there once a year on Yom Kippur – and sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat in the pre-Babylonian exile days. After the destruction of the first temple that space was empty.

Now do you remember what Jesus did – we looked at this before Easter? He went in there and messed up their tables in the courts of the temple. He would have been zealous for the temple because of its intended purpose – as a house of prayer! They had turned it into something else.

Jesus not only cleansed the temple – he broke ALL those rules all the time about sin and ritual purification. He was not keen on their bounded and exclusive set!

He also  totally redrew this map of access to God!! He talked to and touched Gentiles – lepers – and bad people. And all kinds of ritually unclean people touched him!

Jesus connected with all kinds of people who were exluded from the temple. – people like the Ethiopian who would have wanted to worship but could not really have full access.

How exciting therefore when Jesus says: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret!” That’s radical and revolutionary stuff! There are no exclusions here at all. The holy place is redefined!

So back to Acts 8:

And when Philip starts talking to this man on his chariot – a physically deformed eunuch who had travelled SO FAR to just get to the outer court – this encounter is DYNAMIC! The eunuch is reading His Old Testament Bible out loud – which was common in those days  (in Greek)– and needs someone to explain the words of Isaiah! Philip asks him a question – and the man invites him into his chariot!

There is something very moving about the conversation – because of the passage itself. There are two possible applications to the eunuch:    “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.  Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

This man had been physically cut – castrated. Not by choice. Like a sheep to be slaughtered. And – “in his humiliation he was deprived of justice”. Being a castrated male was an in-between state and not a great position socially. Deprived of justice – I think so. And so the man asks: “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

In other words –“ could this apply to me?” A conversation follows and a conversion! And he gets baptised! Brilliant! The line that I love is this one: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (NRSV v 37)

I am sure there were lots of things that prevented him from progressing in his Jewish faith. And there would be churches today who would make it difficult for people to get to that point too! But not on this day! And he goes on his way rejoicing – which implies he had a story to tell.

How startling and radical has the Easter story not been? What happens when Jesus dies? That heavy duty curtain shutting us out of their view of the presence of God – that last barrier – is ripped! Yay and Hallelujah!

THE CHALLENGE

Here’s a thought. Are we not a bit like this too? We want people who show up to conform at least to our brand of thinking or worship!! Mandatory things from OUR POINT OF VIEW.

The BOUNDED SET is a very exclusive kind of thing.

CONTRAST THAT WITH A CENTRED SET.

A centred set is a bit different. This kind of organisation invites people to journey towards a common goal or set of values. It is not a closed group but more like a loose association of people moving in the same direction.

For Christians – the centre is not a belief or a tradition but a PERSON! The first Christians were called people of THE WAY!

I am beginning to wonder whether we should even use the word Christian at all! Follower of Christ – yes! Disciple of Jesus – yes! Jesus-follower – Oh Yes!

The set of the Christian faith is centred in JESUS.We look to him for life. For forgiveness. For healing and reconciliation (remember last week?). Even the buildings are meant to help people find Jesus! And yes we have a mission statement that says we are to “build loving communities that help people find and follow Jesus”. The focal point is Jesus! The building we meet in here is just a tool!

Go to some churches – and horror of horrors they are like that Jewish Temple! They have altars and altar rails – and while I enjoyed receiving communion at them when I was a temporary Anglican – they are expressions of bounded sets again.

The first Christians BROKE DOWN BARRIERS of all sorts. Listen to Galatians 3:28 – probably one of the most significant verses in the New Testament: Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. One IN CHRIST JESUS!

And so when we come to the GOSPEL reading today – it seems to make more sense!    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Remain – abide – live in relationship with, connected to Jesus the vine – the true vine – through whom life pumps into us! Apart from me you can do nothing!

Being connected to Jesus – together – is the only way to do this! And our job is to get people moving in the right direction towards that centre! And it’s not necessarily organised! A vine is not very systematic or tidy. But the branches are plugged into the vine! The branches are centred in Jesus! And outside of that it’s pretty dead!

WHAT EXCITING MISSION OPPORTUNITIES EXIST FOR US TODAY

Like Philip – if you are led by the Holy Spirit – you might bump into someone with whom you can have the conversation that changes lives! Once they are connected – the life flows. It points to a relationship with Jesus as key!

A final comment: An Australian said this (amazing wisdom!) – There are two main methods for keeping cattle on the ranch. One is to build a fence around the perimeter. The other is to dig a well in the centre of the property.

To quote John Ortberg (Is the question for Christians “Out or In?” or “Farther or Closer?”) – If we focus on Jesus as the centre, then the key question becomes whether someone is oriented toward him or away from him. We realize that God is in a much better position than we are to know who’s in and who’s out. We also realize that everyone has something to learn, that everyone has a next step to take, and we don’t have to make ourselves seem more different than we really are. We embrace our common humanity.

We need to get people moving towards Jesus!

Phillip did that with a man from Ethiopia whose name we don’t even know! But the results were first class! A great outcome! A man connected to Jesus! Plugged into the vine!