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Sunday 23 July 2017 – The Word of God on Bible Sunday

Readings: Col 3:12-17; Matt 13:1-9; 18-23

MESSAGE

So how many bibles do you have in your house?

And how many do you actually read?

If you’re a preacher like me it’s useful to have various translations.

But the truth is we only need one – one that we read and that we can easily understand.

Otherwise we’re just decorating our bookcases.

Back in the day when I visited people at home they used to bring out a large family bible and leave it in a conspicuous place.

There are two readings today.

The one in Colossians by Paul suggests that we need to let the Word of Christ “dwell in us richly” as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

This incorporates the Gospel about Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the same principle applies to the whole of Scripture which is our source of faith, life, truth, values and wisdom.

We need to use all of this for our teaching which includes “admonition”. What do you think that means?  Words like correct, exhort, instruct, counsel come to mind. Note that it involves admonishing EACH OTHER. It means that there is a responsibility for all to know the word.

The Bible reading challenge we are taking up today is a great opportunity for ONE ANOTHER conversations – as we check on each other as the weeks go by, and as we share our thoughts on what we have read as we read through the New Testament in six months.

In the booklet which gives your daily passages, you will also find a helpful guide for your reading:

PRAY – ask God to help you understand what you’re about to read.

READ AND LISTEN – read the passage slowly and carefully. Think about the parts that stand out for you. Read those verses again.

THINK / REFLECT – ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s the main point of the passage?
  • What does it say about God? Does it say anything about what God wants for me?
  • Is there something I need to learn? Is there an example to follow, or a warning? Is God giving me a promise?
  • How does God want me to respond in my thoughts, words and actions?

WRITE / JOURNAL – it’s also good to write down your thoughts and the verses that really stood out for you in a journal so you can look back on what you’ve learned.

PRAISE – thank God for his Word and what you’ve learned today.

If you want the Word of Christ to make its home in you richly – I think that means a kind of saturation.

Sheilagh was telling me about a cake the kids made this week where she works. It was a pineapple cake – but despite reminders the children forgot to pour out the pineapple juice.

So they got pineapple pudding – yummy because that juice soaked right through the ingredients. Gooey – sticky – and very pineapply.

We need that kind of drenching of the word – of the truth – of Jesus’ teachings – of all the wisdom of the writers – to soak right in – as we let the Holy Spirit fill us too. Word and Spirit always work together.

THE SECOND READING YOU KNOW

The parable of the sower – well Jesus’ explains it well.

The sower is God really – and he is reckless and generous with the seed – even though there are risks. I think poor farmers listening would have been amazed and shocked all at once.

The real point of the parable is the soil.

Sowing on the path shows extensive generosity.

The rocky ground – well there is a bit of soil and there is life there. The trouble and persecution that comes and destroys the plants was real for them in those days, and is real for many around the world today.

And faith is snuffed out in our country too.  The Bible Society’s 2017 New Zealand research found that 34% of 15-18 year olds identified as Christian, but just 15% of 19-24 year olds did. The trend was repeated for measures of church attendance, Bible reading, discussing the Bible with others, and allowing the Bible to influence your life.

So there is work to do to add some soil in the lives of those who are at risk of falling away. There is a challenge – give some thought to it. They are falling away at university and in the work place. Social pressure, different world views – all these factors mean we need more support for our young people to help build a faith that lasts.

THE THORNS – Well that is closer to home for adults. “… the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

There is life there – but it is unfruitful. (In fact, the next parable that Jesus teaches indicates that the plants and the weeds actually can live together until judgement when they are weeded out and burnt.)

Backsliding – complacency – whatever you call it, people are distracted and the life is drained from them. They are choked by the thorns. They don’t grow – in faith, prayer, worship and witness.

That is a worry – and we need to be on our guard. And using Paul’s words we need to admonish them – correct, warn, remind, encourage. Point them back to the word.

THE GOOD SOIL – well there is a softness, and openness in the heart for the word to take root. It can soak in richly – like that pineapple cake. (FAT people – my preference).

The farmers listening would have been amazed by the results –  they were far greater than you would get even in a good harvest. You might get a harvest of 20 or 30 grains from a wheat seed. But not 60 or 100.

Jesus explains that these are people who hear and understand the word. The fruit bearing is not just the fruit of a changed life and character, but more seed – the word sown by them into the lives of others. They pass the life on (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

There is life in New Zealand – sometimes we get discouraged when we look at the big picture.

The Bible society’s research indicates that “seventeen percent of kiwis aged 13 or over and 30% of all 15 to 18 year olds attend church monthly or more often. Fourteen percent of all kiwis aged 13 or over read the Bible at least monthly, most of those weekly or daily.”

We need to share the story to that we can add to that number those who follow Jesus and read the Bible in this nation.

We need a simple recipe really:

  1. Love and nurture the fruit-bearers amongst us… building one another up in faith.
  2. Examine ourselves to see we are not getting the life choked out of us by worries and the lure of wealth or just stuff. Things. We need to disentangle ourselves if this is the case, and help others to do so as well.
  3. We can build resilience in the lives of those who have no roots – putting soil on the rocks of hardship and resistance. We need to nurture our young people especially and prepare them well for life after school.
  4. And where the path is hard and the word bounces off, we need to pray for wisdom as we are always ready to give a reason for the hope that we have  (Remember this key verse:  1Pe 3:15  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…)  – as we are light and salt along those paths, bearing witness to the truth of Jesus. We should be showing that the Kingdom of God has come through Jesus, and that it is a better option for all. And if there is no understanding on the part of those we speak to – bring them along to an Alpha course where they can find out more!

Amen.

Sources: New Zealand Bible Society.

https://biblesociety.org.nz/discover-the-bible/the-bible-good-for-life/bible-challenge/

 

Sunday sermon 23 November – prophets, preachers and predictions

Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11, Matt 21:12-13  (Following the Narrative Lectionary).

(Note: these sermon notes include various quotations from Scripture in the narrative).

SERMON on Christ the King Sunday

I wonder whether you’ve ever considered that God may be calling you to some unique ministry?

The prophets of the First Testament – those of huge influence like Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, for example, record their story of God’s call.

For Moses – it was the voice of God at the burning bush. A holy place where he takes of his sandals.

Exo 3:1  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Exo 3:2  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.

Exo 3:3  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

Exo 3:4  When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”

Exo 3:5  “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Exo 3:6  Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

 

For Isaiah – a vision of angels crying Holy, Holy, Holy and a hot coal touching his mouth.

Isa 6:1  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Isa 6:2  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

Isa 6:3  And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isa 6:4  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Isa 6:5  “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Isa 6:6  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

Isa 6:7  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Isa 6:8  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 

For Jeremiah – well we heard that read earlier:

Jer 1:4  The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Jer 1:6  “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Jer 1:7  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.

Jer 1:8  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

Jer 1:9  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.

Jer 1:10  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Both Major Prophets had their mouth touched – one was a cleansing touch, and one an empowering touch. Jeremiah is the one who is consecrated. The NIV is unhelpful – I prefer the ESV – the English Standard Version:

Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

(het Ek jou geheilig; AOV) (sanctified KJV)

  • They were called – no doubt – just as ministers today are still called. And missionaries too.
  • The thing is – whatever you do, you can’t shake that call off.
  • The Holy Spirit keeps at you – with this ongoing stirring in your heart.

Moses had a stutter. Isaiah was inadequate and needed cleansing – because, in his words, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

I identify with all three of these great prophets.

  • Like Moses – I don’t feel adequate. And many times I am fearful.
  • Like Isaiah – I feel unworthy and sinful.
  • Like Jeremiah – it started in my life as a child. (he may have been early 20s)

This sense of knowing that God has a hold on you. My childhood years in the Methodist church came with a sense of stirring, and yielding.

It was a hymn that summed it up – I had to sing it as a solo somewhere along the line:

It’s by John Burton (about 1850).

Saviour, while my heart is tender, I would yield that heart to Thee;  All my powers to Thee surrender,Thine and only Thine to be.

Take me now, Lord Jesus, take me; Let my youthful heart be Thine; Thy devoted servant make me; Fill my soul with love divine.

Send me, Lord, where Thou wilt send me, Only do Thou guide my way; May Thy grace through life attend me, Gladly then shall I obey.

Let me do Thy will or bear it; I would know no will but Thine;  Shouldst Thou take my life or spare it, I that life to Thee resign.

May this solemn consecration, Never once forgotten be; Let it know no revocation, Registered and confirmed by Thee.

Thine I am, O Lord, for ever, To Thy service set apart; Suffer me to leave Thee never, Seal Thine image on my heart.

It’s a powerful hymn.

  • Jeremiah could just as well have sung it.
  • He is the most human. He wrestles with God. He fails. His life is threatened.
  • Jeremiah himself was attacked by his own brothers, beaten by priests, and thrown into a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jer 38:6  So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.

I think he would have been a good minister’s elder or supervisor. He gets it – the struggling, the wrestling with God. For example in chapter 20:

Jer 20:7  O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.

Jer 20:8  Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long.

The power of the call follows again in the next verse:

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.

Being a prophet is a challenging thing really. Jeremiah speaks to the national situation – and also to the church people of the day.

Chapter 7 is classic – his so called “temple sermon”. 

Jer 7:1  This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:

Jer 7:2  “Stand at the gate of the LORD’s house and there proclaim this message: “‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD.

Jer 7:3  This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.

Jer 7:4  Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!”

Do you get it? He is standing at the door – at the church door really – challenging people.

It’s provocative but it fits with these words from later in chapter 1:

Jer 1:17  “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.

Jer 1:18  Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

Jer 1:19  They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

  • How can I describe this situation? In the time of King Josiah there was a major “church growth” kind of movement. Spiritual things had been neglected for about 250 years.
  • And King Josiah, who came to the throne in Judah at the age of 8, had brought huge change. (Grandfather 55 years – Manasseh; Father Amon 2 years. Killed. Josiah 8 year old. Seeks God at 16. Reforms at 20 (628BC).
  • Jeremiah probably started his prophetic years under Josiah. (2 Kings 22:1ff).
  • In 2 Kings we read about the rediscovery of the Book of the Law in the temple.

2Ki 22:8  Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.

2Ki 22:9  Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the LORD and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.”

2Ki 22:10  Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.

2Ki 22:11  When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.  

There were major reforms that followed. Passover was reinstituted. Idols were smashed. But, as one commentator puts it:

“Josiah had gotten the idols out of the temple, but he had not gotten idolatry out of the people. No one knew that better than Jeremiah.” (John Guest).

Listen to these words again – God speaking to Jeremiah:

Jer 1:18  Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.

Jer 1:19  They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

John Wesley once said, “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but God, and who hate nothing but sin and we will take over the world for Christ.”

  • Jeremiah was that kind of man.
  • He preaches his message at the gate of the temple – where people were probably quite pleased with themselves that they had actually shown up.
  • The sermon extract we read today ends with these classic lines: 

Jer 7:9  “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Jer 7:10  and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jer 7:11  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.  

Jesus picks up on this when he cleanses the temple:

Mat 21:12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

Mat 21:13  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

THE APPLICATION TODAY

You know – you can have a wonderful time at church – and miss the point.

If there is no evidence of change – we have a problem too.

God sees all.

That’s Jeremiah’s message.

And Jesus’ message seems to follow in the same prophetic tradition.

In fact – when Jesus asks his followers: (Matthew 16:13)  “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Mat 16:14  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Mat 16:15  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Mat 16:16  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The people in Josiah’s day destroyed their idols, and conformed to the rediscovered Law. But it was all a public display – being seen to be doing the right things.

Jesus had issues with that too.

Remember this verse?

Mat 23:27  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

Mat 23:28  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

This is Christ the King Sunday. He knows whether we have really let him take his rightful place in our lives.

That’s my job and calling. To make sure that we are doing church in such a way that we live lives faithful to the Gospel and the Scriptures as a whole.

There are those who fancy themselves as church police – wanting to check the preacher out for heresy.

In fact that’s my job! Those who are called to speak – they speak for God. That makes it a very scary calling. I don’t take it lightly.

In a sense – preaching comes closest to prophecy – because the word means to “speak forth”.  The older more mature Peter says this of ministry:

1Pe 4:8  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1Pe 4:9  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

1Pe 4:10  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

1Pe 4:11  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen

ESV again:

1Pe 4:11  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 5 says this:

Heb 5:12  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,

Heb 5:13  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.

Heb 5:14  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Paul says this of preaching:

1Co 9:16  Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

To get back to Jeremiah 7 – Jeremiah’s temple sermon (his church sermon if you like):

Jeremiah 7:11 is a sober warning, re-enforced by the words and actions of Jesus:

Jer 7:9  “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,

Jer 7:10  and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?

Jer 7:11  Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

Mat 21:12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

Mat 21:13  “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”

You know – you can have a wonderful time here each week.

Just don’t miss the point!

So be it.

Amen.

Sunday 4 August – Bible Sunday

Readings:

Colossians 3:1-17

Luke 8:4-8

Please watch the video about Bibles distributed in Cambodia before you read this short message

Message

Thanks for sharing your favourite verses today.

I’m so blessed – I get to share my favourite verses so often. I thought it only fair to give others a chance.

I was sharing with someone the other day about his pacemaker. How the thing kicks into action when his heart goes out of rhythm or does not behave either way.

I guess it’s a kind of an implant – something connected on the inside – that makes a difference – that really keeps him alive.

It’s a matter of life or death really. Without it – if his heart stops – well he’s a bit like you and me.

Our bodies have ways of kicking in when we are in trouble too in other ways – adrenalin is very helpful in a crisis. Our response to a life threatening situation is part of the gift of creation.

I discovered something new this week too.

If you stop breathing – say with a condition like obstructive sleep apnoea – your oxygen level drops and your brain wakes you up with a bit of a jolt. Very helpful really – otherwise – like the heart stopping – well when you stop breathing – you die.

My dad used to have a very dry sense of humour. If someone died and you asked what the cause was – he would usually say “lack of breath”. My response as a child – when someone died (as was the case when my godfather died) – was to ask “who shot him?”

Now this is a very long illustration of two points from today’s readings.

  1. Colossians 3:

Col 3:15  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

  1. 2.    Luk 8:6  Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.

This is the only parable that Jesus explains – making it more like an allegory. He says in verse 13 (which we did not read):

Luk 8:13  Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.

Both images are about the word of God becoming an inner experience – dwelling in us richly – being rooted in our lives.

Our hearts – our minds – our memories – all need the word of God to grow and bear fruit.

The desired result is fruitfulness. In the parable – it works like this:

Luk 8:15  But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

And in the letter to the Colossians – it works its way out in the community of the church! In worship specifically!

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

Paul says something similar when he writes to the Corinthians:

1 Co 14:26  What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.

Now we don’t do this every week on a Sunday – as this is our main corporate worship and teaching time.

We do do this in home groups – where we build each other up in faith and fellowship whenever we meet.

On this Bible Sunday I implore you – beseech you (in older English) to make it your life’s business to read your Bible.

Let it be implanted in your heart, mind and memory.

It’s a wonderful thing when it becomes the default setting – like the bodies autonomic systems that kick in – or like my friends pacemaker that saves his life.

This is a taonga. A treasure that should not be wasted by keeping it on the shelf! It’s tangible and intangible. It is the power of God’s word to us which becomes an invisible power within – like that pacemaker.

Look at the resources today on the table that Sue has done for us.

Take some home (that are there for you – not peoples’ books we have borrowed but the sheets with ideas and resources).

Happy Bible Sunday! Be glad that we have this treasure and the freedom to put it to work in our hearts and lives.

Amen!

Sunday sermon 9 December 2012 – Ready or not? Prepared?

Gospel reading: Luke 3:1-6

Reflection

In the midst of all these world events and powerful people – Luke mentions leaders from Caesar to Pilate – to Herod and his brother Phillip, Lysanias – and the high priests in the temple at Jerusalem – with all their power and influences in their various sectors – there’s John the son of Zachariah hanging out in the wilderness. The desert. A typical prophet. Alternate. Different views and different diet. Weird – in fact. Dressed in camel skins and eating wild locusts and honey. Locusts are very tricky – those little bits stick in your teeth…

The focus is not on this unusual man, however. After the sweeping statement locating this story in historical time and its politicians and priests – the focus is not on the man.

The subject of Luke’s pronouncement is very specific:

“.. the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” The Word of God comes! The focus is not on the man  – but on the message God gives him. Wonderful. Awesome! God’s word came to John after hundreds of years of prophetic silence. And God – through John – declares that they are to get ready.

There are different kinds of readiness and different levels of seriousness in our preparation in life.

I meet so many people really who when I mention Christmas get a pale frightened look on their faces and bleat out an apology: “I’m not ready”.

Last week we talked about being ready for Jesus’ return – or at least for our death and journey to eternity.

READY OR NOT – is a game children play. ‘Coming – ready or not!’

Death comes our way.  In the secular world people who are dying are often encouraged to sort things out – to focus on preparations for their stuff and family – not wanting to leave a trail of mess and unfinished business, and wanting to provide for their loved ones. Funeral insurance is sold on this basis – don’t leave them with a huge debt, and so forth.

On a daily basis people get ready each day for work (many struggle to get this right too!).

And there are other preparations we make. On a more spiritual note people used to get ready for church each week.

READY EVERY SUNDAY

There was a time when the one really important readiness ritual we went through was on a Sunday. Churches were quiet places to enter into. And for the newcomer it seemed odd and boring. Nevertheless there was a sense of getting ready (in dress) and preparing (in heart and mind) to come into God’s presence. Of repentance and making right – confession and new beginnings. Stillness. (Very different now as we are a rowdy bunch really).

PREPARING THE WAY TODAY

In the midst of our Christmassy busyness today we hear God’s Word in the words John the Baptizer (he was never a Baptist!)

John’s task is to get people geared up for the salvation that comes from Jesus! Listen again:

“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

TODAY IT’S ABOUT READINESS FOR WORKING WITH GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW

Or God working in us.

The desert – the wilderness – was not an unusual place God to speak to people. In fact people today are quite keen on those desolate yet beautiful places for retreats and reflection. They are less distracting.

But for most of us – if we don’t take the time and open our hearts and minds – our daily routine in the city or at home – can be like a desert. Dry. Dusty. No water of life. No energy. No word from the Lord.

The Essential Jesus 20 weeks and 100 readings have given many of us a new discipline and a new commitment to read the Bible. The point is – in our deserts – God speaks to us today – through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.

THE CHALLENGE OF JOHN’S MESSAGE AT ADVENT

In the midst of the tinsel and Christmas expectation – all that wrapping paper and exotic food – it’s a very challenging thing for preachers to be true to this passage.

The candle we lit was for peace. It’s a lovely idea and all our hearts are softened when we think of the conflict of the world and the need for peace. We admire peacekeepers and pray for peace.

But true preparation for the coming of the Messiah – required repentance. Peace came at a cost. Changing direction and changing one’s mind – these actions are associated with repentance in the Bible.

I am sure that John – in his time of preparation in that lonely place we call God’s calling – the calling of prophets and preachers alike (in fact preaching is prophecy in the literal sense of speaking God’s word – “speaking forth”) – would have some straightening out of the paths in himself – smoothing out the rough places in his heart. He would have had his own repenting to do.

This repentance – if you are looking up – means you have to look down at the world from God’s point of view (imagine being able to see all the rage, anger and abuse going on with a view from heaven). If you are going north, it would mean changing direction to south. You get my point.

It’s a spiritual 180 degree turn which inevitably leads to a physical change in direction as well.

The truth is we need so much turning that we can easily become disorientated and dizzy. And our world can be like a desert, or a steep hill, or even a deep valley to claw out of. I remember a serious road crash we had some years back – where we went over a steep hill – and only a sand trap by a tree prevented us from disaster. We had to crawl out of there.

As we hear God’s word – and if we are serious – we have to make some moves. Our interior landscape can be quite bumpy.

And we do struggle sometimes because we want instant results and answers. The truth is a lot of the change that happens in us is slow and painful.

It takes time to clean things up in our lives. Like those bits of locusts that get stuck in your teeth. It needs some digging around.

So it makes sense that we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.)

We need to set our compass with Jesus as our true North.

Wesley understood the challenge of true conversion and ongoing repentance and transformation when he wrote his hymn Love Divine. Listen again:

Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
– Charles Wesley

You can’t get that movement towards a new creation if you’re stuck somewhere in the wrong place or going in the wrong direction.

And changing the landscape of our lives takes time. Like changing the course of a river there is a lot of stuff to be shifted.

May you work on your spiritual preparation this Advent as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world.

May we make the right moves and let him change us – bit by bit – on our journey.

Amen.