Christmas Day Message 25 December 2018 – ready for relatives?

Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14

Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?

I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:

MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Sleep and relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Eating and drinking in moderation
  • Keeping calm during family gatherings
  • Doing good

Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.

By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂

Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.

Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.

And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!

You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.

The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?

  • It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
  • But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.

Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.

Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments.  All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’

John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)

We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;

He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.

So what does that mean?

1. No longer orphans or lost boys

It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.

Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:

2. Having a really good father

Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”

The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:

I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone

The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:

You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word

And finally in this short Christmas day reflection:

3. We also don’t have to be afraid…

Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.

Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.

John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:

God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”

Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7.

These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.

A blessed Christmas to you all.

Amen.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons, Uncategorized

Sunday message 16 December 2018 – Joy

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11

MESSAGE

STORY:  “Finders keepers.”

My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.

I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.

I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.

Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.

I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.

It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.

(Hopefully the owner of the mug  will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)

So let’s talk about joy today.

So how joyful will your Christmas be?

And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?

If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?

Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.

This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!

 

Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.

But what about us?

The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?

Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.

Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.

Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.

In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.

Like “I am H A P P Y”.  You can’t really sing it and be miserable.

Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.

Research indicates that people feel great after singing together  probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.

So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.

The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.

Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known.  My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.

The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?

The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.

It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.

It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.

For example in Paul’s writings:

  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
  • But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).

Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.

There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)

JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST

Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.

SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY

If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.

CHRISTMAS JOY

So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).

This news of Te Harinui.

They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.

When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.

For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:

Mat 22:29  Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:

Luke 11:46  Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“good news of great joy” was needed.

The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.

Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.

So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.

The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!

So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:

Php 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.

That is good news of great joy for all of us.

Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.

May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons, Uncategorized

A Christmas reflection: Immanuel – God with us

Readings:  Isaiah 7:10-15;  Matthew 1:18-25

CALLING PEOPLE NAMES

What were you called as a child? Yes I know you were named Larry, Peter or Susan.

But you must have had other names. Or called other people names. Children can be horrible. Ok forget the mean names. What about the nicknames?

I was called various names through my school years. They weren’t all nice, but some were a good description of me.

This passage from Matthew is really important when it come to names – and what people are called.

The angel makes it clear – speaking to Joseph about Mary:

Mat 1:21  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

That in itself would be enough. What a powerful name. Meaning “God saves”.

Hallelujah – what a Saviour – is what we sing at Easter.

Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.

But Matthew goes on. He is writing to Jewish readers and wants them to understand how Jesus fits in to the bible they had – and the prophets’ predictions

So he says: Mat 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Mat 1:23  “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

Of course back in Isaiah’s time – they expected someone to come and help them.

But the prophecies often had multiple applications.

Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.

This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.

El – is the word for God. Immanu – means with us.

You would have heard some of the other names for God in history.

Like Elohim.

El Shaddai.

El Elyon.

El Shammah.

Jesus – is what he would be named on his birth certificate. Immanu-el – is what they would call Jesus. A very powerful name. And “called” name. (You see it on forms today –  the name you like to be called by)

GOD WITH US.

That description changes everything for us.

The loneliness

The sadness

The rejection we face

GOD WITH US.

The sickness

Suffering

Sadness.

GOD WITH US.

Fear

Frustration

Fighting around us

GOD WITH US.

Never to leave us or forsake us – is what he says.

The moment Jesus comes into that manger – in fact from his conception – GOD WITH US.

The world is never the same.

We went to two concerts last Christmas.

  • The Bach Musica Concert in the City hall.
  • And the Morning Melodies at the Bruce Mason.

In both concerts they were singing about IMMANUEL. God with us.

The City Hall concert included Puccini’s Mass – with the whole of the Nicene Creed sung.

These lines got my attention. This amazing bass-baritone was singing in Latin of course;

Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.

Died and was buried; And rose again on the third day.

But this was the line that got me before those \wo. I thought – if only I could talk to him afterwards – and say, ‘do you know the one of whom you were singing?”

Because it says; ET HOMO FACTUS EST – AND BECAME A MAN.

All those people were hearing about Jesus -Immanuel – God with us.

And at the Mason theatre – we sang another Charles Wesley hymn:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel

Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.

I was praying – Lord – show them who you are in reality.

Now we know this already.

And we know Him as God with us.

Or at least we are discovering Him as God with us.

My prayer for you this Advent and Christmas season is that you discover fully what it means to know Him RIGHT IN THE CENTRE of your life – whether things are tough or easy sailing – may you know Him and his hope, peace, joy and love.

Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons, Uncategorized

Ethics for the 21st Century – Wayne Matheson

Worth a read on his we behave in daily life….

Candour

man whispering in earRev Wayne Matheson is the Assembly Executive Secretary, and this is the first of a two-part series written by Wayne on ethics in the Church.

For the past four years in my role as the Assembly Executive Secretary, one of the privileges and pleasures has been running the Ethics and Risk Management workshops with co-presenter Jane Zintl. While available for all, it’s mostly ministers who attend. We start each session by looking at the Code of Ethics – but there are somethings I notice before that.

As I listen in these settings some things strike me: who does not attend; who is there for their growth and well-being, and who is there to tick the box that they have attended; what is said in both large and small group times; what side conversations take place. I see and hear from emotionally healthy and self-aware people. I hear from people that…

View original post 398 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Accusing Jesus – Stuart Vogel

With a read indeed…

Candour

VermeerOver recent years, I have had a fascination with the great Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Vermeer had the rare artistic ability to capture a particular moment – and make it eternal.  A little like the gospel writer, Luke.

Recently at the Auckland Taiwanese Presbyterian Church I preached on the story in Luke 10, of Jesus in Mary and Martha’s home. In 1655, Vermeer painted the scene in his painting “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”. 1655 was within the final years that the Netherlands controlled Formosa (Taiwan) as a colonial power.

View original post 774 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sunday Message 25 June 2017: Sparrows and things…

READINGS:  Psalm 84:1-4; 10-12;  Matthew 10:24-39

I drove in here on Thursday morning – and guess who was in my parking space?

Yes – you got it right.

A whole lot of sparrows. Scurrying around as they do.

Not quite sure if there was really anything for them to eat there.

I actually think that God was reminding me again of how loved we are.

I love this picture in scripture:

Listen again: Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

In the light of this, consider the local cafe in Browns Bay where the man killed off the sparrows because of their enthusiasm for people’s leftovers.

A worse story is this one. 

It’s a story about a sparrow that somehow got into the rafters of St. Helen’s Parish Church in the English town of Brant Broughton. At the time of the intrusion, they were recording a guitar recital for later broadcast on the radio. The chirping bird didn’t exactly chirp with the beat. So the pastor, Rev. Robin Clark (ironically) asked the congregation to leave and then asked a friend to bring his pellet gun over to the church to shoot the intruding sparrow.

The killing of the sparrow became front page news in Great Britain. The London Daily Telegraph ran a clever headline that said, “Rev. Robin Orders Death of Sparrow.”

Editorials and letters to the editor flowed, chastising the cruel and unusual punishment for this lowly bird. People who hadn’t darkened the door of a church in decades suddenly remembered Psalm 84 in which it is declared that even sparrows are welcome in the house of the Lord (84:3). 

We heard Psalm 84:3 today:  Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Poor Rev Robin. Poor little sparrow. We can easily sentimentalise things.

The comparison of course means we are more valuable than sparrows. And nothing happens to us either that he does not allow or care about – that’s the implication.

What it doesn’t say is that the sparrow will be spared – or that we will be spared. *They were sold two for a penny – probably to be eaten.)

Persecution is the background to this passage. The cost for some people is jail and execution – more in this generation than ever before. There is often a price to pay. And many are not spared. Martyrdom is rife today in many parts of the world. And if we escape this, there is no guarantee we will escape some other suffering.

And yet he still cares.

John Wimber tells the story of the man who led him to Christ – whose daughter had been raped and murdered, how he got his family together at the end of that terrible day and said: “Father, I don’t understand, but I trust you.” His forgiveness of the perpetrator was a great witness, and many came to Christ through him, including Wimber, who in turn impacted hundreds of thousands through the Vineyard Church movement.

Wimber speaks about the man’s character development and how he was prepared to be an evangelist through heartache. He writes: “if we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what he is doing.” He quotes a friend who says: “Sometimes he offends our minds to reveal our hearts.”

After the sparrow story comes these lines which challenge us again:

Mat 10:32  “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

We do that in church – in public profession of faith with baptism that formalises our membership of the church – that speaks of our belonging to Christ, of being in Christ.

And if people were baptised and made a public profession of faith in another congregation our Session can resolve to admit them to membership of this one.

By the way – we plan to welcome people next month who have made that public declaration along the line and now find themselves here in this local church. We would love to include you in that special day if you have made this church family your family.

The context of Matthew 10 is different though. It’s an acknowledgement in the face of risk. Is a pubic admission that we follow Jesus – in society.

It has to mean that we identify ourselves out there in our daily lives.

And then the rest of the Gospel passage which we did not read today makes sense but is even more challenging:

Mat 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  Mat 10:35  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—  Mat 10:36  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’  Mat 10:37  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; Mat 10:38  and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Mat 10:39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

It’s almost as if today we are quite disconnected from this early discipleship.

It is radical – and requires huge commitment. And Jesus comes first before everyone else. And you have to take up your cross and follow – otherwise you’re not worthy of Jesus. And this is not the kind of self-punishing “cross I have to bear.” It’s a death to self. It’s that we are Christians – little Christs – and his cross is our cross.

It’s risky and illogical in a sense– if it’s about you, then you lose. If you surrender your life for Jesus’ sake – you win!

How about that?

And how about us?

  • Do we acknowledge Christ in the rest of our lives (outside of Church life)?
  • Or are we living a double life? Secret Christians?
  • Do we love Him more than all those listed? Father, mother, son or daughter? (v37)
  • Are we radical enough?
  • Do we take our crosses and follow Christ? (Admittedly some of us have crosses thrust upon us that we would not choose).
  • Are we worthy of Jesus?

Great questions these! It’s up to us really!

BUT THE THING I WANT YOU TO TAKE HOME more than anything else – is that you don’t have to be afraid as you follow Jesus.

Last week we threw our anxieties at Jesus – do you remember my worry pot?

The kids wrote their worries on bits of paper and chucked them in.

Today I invite you to give your fears to him.

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And I pray that a sparrow crosses your path each day – to remind you that you are worth infinitely more as a child of God.

To end – listen to the song: no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God. Receive his peace.

 

AMEN

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons

11 June 2017 message – What we do in the name of the Trinity…

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28: Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ Brunner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

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,

1Pe 3:16  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermons