Preach // 28th May 2017 // 6.30 TRINITY Church // Witness

6.30 service at TRINITY // 28/5/17

Witness and Mission // Acts 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.

 

 

…o0O0o…

Before I get into this preach tonight, I just want to say, I first sat down to write this sermon on Tuesday morning. I had just woken up and seen the terrible news from Manchester. A lot of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. And I have to be honest I just completely floundered, where was God is in this?

During the day I read an article which highlighted the good that was bring done in the wake of the tragedy but did so my suggesting Jesus came to Manchester after the bombing.

 

 

And I’ve got to be honest it just made me really angry.

 

I mean, ‘And then Jesus came?’

What was he not there before? Did Jesus not grace the doorstep of Manchester before this terrible thing? Does goodness only come out in response to terror and fear? What nonsense.

Look I think it’s almost impossible to come up with an answer to the why? in situations like this. We can talk theology or politics but it actually doesn’t really help us to understand why someone would do something so awful, to cause so much pain deliberately and equate that with an all powerful loving God.

But what I do say to people with those sorts of questions is that we need to hold the truth of who God is alongside the things we don’t understand. And I expect that is what the writer of that piece was trying to do.

Questions are ok, I’m not saying don’t question, don’t ask, because actually I think our faith grows through that, but we have to hold them in tension with the truth.

Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.

They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!

The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!

We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery. Or of not understanding.

 

So whilst what I say tonight I believe, it’s something I am passionate about and I believe it is what God has for us right now, I also recognise that sometimes it’s hard to hold that truth in tension with what we don’t understand. Perhaps what I say tonight will sound crass in the light of what’s happened, though I hope not, that is not my intention, or maybe you’d rather hear me say something about God and suffering, but I just encourage you just to try and hold what you hear tonight together with what you don’t understand if that’s ok.

 

…o0O0o…

And the truth of our passage tonight is that we are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. And I don’t suppose the disciples when they heard this fully understood what they were to do but they trusted in him.

 

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.”

 

Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, literally seconds before he ascended and returned into heaven – and its very appropriate for this week, because did you know it was Ascension day this week?

Now, there are many times in the bible when Jesus sends out his disciples, but I think it’s hugely significant that these are, his very last words to them.

You will receive power

The Holy Spirit will come upon you

You will be my witnesses

In all the earth

 

And before I go on I want us all to understand that this is as much for us now as it was for them then – how do we know that?

 

Matthew 28 The Great Commission, another passage like this one, sending them out:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and (now here’s the key) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…

And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. So the disciples are told to teach others to do what Jesus has taught them, so then the next generation of believers has the same commission, to continue to teach what they have been taught, and so on… right up to us in this day.

Whatever Jesus commanded the disciples to do, we can therefore say is for us too.

Does that make sense?

 

So for example. Matthew 10:7-8 one of my fave passages, Jesus sends out the 12 with these instructions:

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Yes? Come on!

That’s what I want to see, the sick healed, the dead raised, lives transformed…

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Remember…

 

So just as the disciples were, WE are Jesus’ witnesses – anyone who is a Christian who has been made a disciple is called to be a witness for Jesus to all nations, to the ends of the earth.

That’s us.

So, are you a witness for Jesus? Are we as a church a witness for Christ?

 

And what does that even mean anyway?

…o0O0o…

Well 2 words that strike fear into the hearts of many:

Mission and evangelism… that is what witness means.

But why is that we hear words like them and break out in a cold sweat?

Well maybe it’s because we have seen really bad evangelism and want nothing to do with it? Maybe we’re worried people will think us weird if we talk about you know, (hushed) Jesus.

Or because the church often has a bad reputation, and we don’t want to have to deal with difficult questions about suffering or evil or homosexuality or women in the church…? Goodness whatever next!

Or maybe it’s just that we don’t really know what it means or what we’re supposed to do?!

Because we’ve already established that this is for everyone, right – we’re all supposed to be doing this, because we are supposed to be following what Jesus taught his disciples, yes?

 

…o0O0o…

Now look, some of us ARE called to be out and out evangelists. We are called to be project starters, to be pioneering new ideas out there… And that is great, we need pioneers to have ideas to get things going, to be out there among the people. And some of us aren’t called to that specifically as a calling or gifting, but we must not be people who sit back and think, well that’s ok – they, them over there are the missional types, they are the evangelists – I’ll let them get on with it…

But equally I’m not saying we all need to be out there on a street corner with a soap box and a loud haler telling people they are going to hell,

but we should be doing something.

So what can we do? And I’m going to focus on us as individuals though it’s as much a call for the church together as it is for us.

So we’re going to use Forrest Gump as an example.

Now I love Forrest Gump – how many of you have seen the film?

If you haven’t it’s the story is of a guy who, well I guess today he’d be classed as having learning difficulties, and it’s his journey through life. And he gets into all sorts of amazing situations mostly by accident.

And the reason I wanted to show it to you today is because I think Forrest is a great example of someone who is missional and evangelistic.

So here’s 3 things we can learn from FG about being a good witness, about being evangelistic and missional.

 

We can be incarnational

We can tell our story

We can go wider

 

 

1) We can be incarnational

 

Had to get that clip in, the most iconic line!
So, being incarnational – literally means in this context – just being who you are, a Christian – being a light for Jesus wherever you are. Jesus was the ultimate incarnation – he came to earth and took on human form in order to fulfil God’s mission. So for us that might mean intentionally seeking to be a shining light wherever we are. We can bring a Christian presence in any given situation, bring a different viewpoint, a bringer of peace and light.

So for example, Forrest makes the most of wherever he is, or wherever he is sent, or wherever he finds himself. He is just himself and takes everything in his stride. No matter what the situation – at war, in business, siting on a park bench – he embraces the place where he is. I am sure sometimes people think him weird but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

So great example here – he’s just waiting for a bus and he doesn’t just sit there and ignore everyone, he is the same as he always is and so he just chats to people who come and sit next to him, or offers them a chocolate!

Jeremiah 29:4-7 says this:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

 

These are people who were sent to exile, sent away from homes and family and all that they knew, but God tells them to embrace where they are, to bless where they are, where he’s placed them.

We have to own where God has put us! I don’t think any of us are where we are by accident!

So, where has God put you? What’s your mission field? College, work, home, football club… where do you hang out with people?

Wherever you are, you are bringing the presence of God, because we carry that within us anyway. You don’t necessarily have to be talking about Jesus. sometimes just people knowing you are a Christian or that you go to church, is enough. It means that when they have questions or they need support they might just come to you.

John 13:35 tell us:

 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples- if you love one another”

 

that’s how people will know about God, if we love people and love one another. That’s quite simple isn’t it?

And I always tell the story of my husband who had a work colleague who was a Christian, she didn’t go on about it a lot, he just knew because she’d said occasionally, that she went to church. So when he started having questions about faith, he knew exactly who to ask!

 

Be incarnational and embrace where God has put you.

 

OK so what else can we learn from Forrest Gump?

 

2.We can tell our story – we can talk about what God has done for us.

FG, talks about his faith quite openly and without shame or being embarrassed, he just talks matter of factly about it. And because he does that, people respond – so here you see Lieutenant Dan saying ‘where’s this God of yours’ but actually there is more to it that just teasing, he is on a journey, and later on FG says that he thinks Lt Dan made his peace with God.

But because he is open about his faith it’s easy for God to move! Here we see an amazing miracle but it’s the same in our lives too wherever we are open and seeking God, it just creates ways for him to move and for us to reach into peoples lives.

Your story is one of the best tools for evangelism that you have. Testimony is so powerful, we are a people who love stories, we especially love personal stories and stories of people going from sad to happy, from a bad place to a good one. Some of the stories we see in Alpha, like the guy who had been in prison and the became a Christian and his life was turned around. How many of you watch movies on Facebook or Social Media of heart warming stories? It makes you feel good right!? Your story could do that for someone else.

In Mark 5, where Jesus healed a demon possessed man and when the man asks to go with him, Jesus says no – just go and tell people what the Lord has done for you.

Mark 5:18-20

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

 

This man had been healed by the Lord. And what did Jesus tell him to do – just go and tell people what had happened to him. And that is key. Our story, our testimony.

You know someone close to me who is not a Christian, we’ve had so many conversations about faith and God and the bible, and he is very antagonistic and the only thing that gets him to really listen is when I talk about what God has done and is doing in my life. My story.

I’m not trying to be a theological expert or answer all his questions and get out of the traps he lays for me! I’m just telling him what’s going on in my life.

He even once said, ‘I wish I had what you have’. I’m still praying for him, he hasn’t recognised Jesus yet but I have faith that he will!

…o0O0o…

And you don’t have to have some amazing healing or dramatic conversion, it might just be that because of your faith you are able to feel peaceful in a stressful situation. Or are the one who can be a peacemaker between arguing friends, or the one who encourages people to help someone worse off than them. That’s your cue, your opportunity when people notice those things, that’s just as much you story…

And, we don’t see in this clip but the man sat next to FG on the bench doesn’t believe him and goes off laughing. But FG just carries on talking to the woman next to him. Just like in the parable where the seed falls on rocky ground, in weeds and in good soil, we still need to sow it! That man might never have believed but the woman next to him certainly does!

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

Use your story you know it well!

…o0O0o…

And finally. FG shows us that we might go further, go the extra mile.

 

3.We can go wider/further

FG ends up in all kinds of situations that as a child no one thought him capable of, they didn’t even want him in school because they thought he couldn’t cope with it.

The truth is we just don’t know where God might take us. And that might be a one off situation where he calls you in that moment to do something radical or bold or courageous for him. Or it might be wider calling to go somewhere like Lisa from our congregation here who God has called to Uganda for example. Or I have friends that moved to a particular estate locally because that’s where God led them to.

We might end up in places we never thought we could go or doing things we never thought we could do. We need to be open to the leading of God. In our passage it says that the Holy Spirit will come on them. We need to be aware of the HS in our lives, to listen, to hear and be led by him.

I think this is one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie. FG is fighting in Vietnam and despite the danger, despite the fear, he is completely focussed on rescuing people, saving his fellow soldiers.

Isn’t that what we’re about at the end of the day? Seeing people saved? Rescued?

Where might God send you? Who might he be calling you to see saved or rescued?

And more than that, FG did in that moment more than he could have done without the adrenaline and fear and desperation to find his friend. It’s just like that when the HS comes on us, we can achieve so much more than in our own strength!

 

…o0O0o…

 

and one more thing I want to pick up on..

 

Mark 16:15 says

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation

 

And in our passage from Acts:

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

 

 

To the ends of the earth…

Did you know that According to Finishing the Task, (evangelistic organization) there are 506 unengaged, unreached people groups with populations over 10,000, together numbering over 51 million souls that are still beyond the reach of the Gospel.

Most of which lay in what’s often referred to as the 10/40 window – a band which lies across Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator.

But what if we’re not called to actually go to somewhere across the world, does that mean we can’t share the gospel across the world?

No – in our technological era, with the internet and social media, I can put something online that can be seen across the world in seconds. Even in remote places. Of course there are people without access to the internet but it is still a very useful tool.

So for example, I went on my blog stats and looked at where people were viewing my blog from.

There was a huge list of countries. But some had just 1 or 2 views. So if I wanted it would be very easy to write stuff to reach a particular country, or to set my profile and settings to reach a different area. All without leaving the comfort of my sofa!

Social media – we can contact people all over the world. I have friend who runs a school and orphanage in rural Haiti and they keep in touch via Facebook because its the easiest way to get the news out to lots of people and quickly (and it’s free!).

 

Going into all the world might not necessarily mean actually physically going there…

 

…o0O0o…

So.

 

We are ALL called to be witnesses for Jesus. There can be no excuses!

 

We could be incarnational

We can share our story and

We might just be able to go a bit further…

 

…o0O0o…

Lead into prayer….

 

 

 

Holy Week Reflection 7 // Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday – in the Grave

Read: Luke 23:50-56

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 13 and 14 click on the numbers to get the audio

 

Artwork: two choices today:

‘The Deposition’ Ugolino de Neriolook close up at the faces of Mary and Jesus 

 

or Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ sculpture (click on the titles to see the paintings)

 

  • Both these pieces depict the raw emotion of a Mother with her dead son. Can you feel the sorrow through the artwork?

 

Prayer Points:

  • As we come to the end of the week’s reflections, why not commit yourself afresh to the Lord? You could use this prayer – The Methodist Covenant Prayer which Methodists repeat every year in committing themselves afresh to the Lord.

 

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

 

 

Holy Week Reflection 6 // Good Friday

Good Friday – The Crucifixion

Read: Mark 15:21-41 perhaps 2 or 3 times

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • Imagine yourself in the text, at the foot of the cross, how does it make you feel?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 11 and 12 click on the number to get the audio

Painting: ‘St John of the Cross’ by Salvador Dali Click on the title to see the painting

 

  • This painting was inspired by a drawing, kept in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, which was done by Saint John of the Cross after he had seen a vision of Christ during a powerful spiritual experience. Dali talks of the unity of the world in Christ through his own interpretation. What does it speak of to you?

 

Song: Strange way by Martyn Joseph

 

  • A cleverly written song on the Crucifixion, have a listen to the lyrics and see what stands out to you and think about why.

Prayer Points

  • We sometimes talk of nailing our burdens or our sin to the cross. What do you need to let go of and give to the Lord right now? Lift it to him in prayer.
  • Pray for those who are persecuted for their Christian faith around the world.
  • Pray for those you know struggling in their faith

 

Holy Week Reflection 5 // Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper

Read: Luke 22: 7-30 and/or John 13:1-17

  • What, if anything, stands out to you? 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 9 and 10, click on the number to hear the audio

 

Painting: ‘Journey with Jesus’ by He Qi click on the title to see the image

 

  • There is much symbolism and many references in this picture, what stands out to you?
  • Where would you be in this picture?

 

Prayer Points:

  • Focus on the line from Luke ‘…my blood is poured out for you…’ Spend some time thanking God for the amazing sacrifice he made for you.
  • Pray for those in positions where service is key, perhaps the emergency services, medical staff or armed forces.
  • Pray for those who serve you personally. At home, work, church or in the community…

 

 

Holy Week Reflection 3 // Tuesday

Tuesday – The Greatest Commandment

Read: Matthew 22: 34-40, perhaps 2 or 3 times.

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • How important are these commandments to you in your life? In what ways do you show the love of Christ in your daily life?

 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 5 and 6(click on the numbers of get the audio)

Painting: ‘God Hold Me’ by Charlie Mackesy

Available here but you need to scroll down to item 74

 

 

  • Can you imagine yourself in this painting?
  • Can you think of a time when you have experienced God holding you in this way? Perhaps you might need to experience this now in a situation you face?

 

Article: Holy Week in an Unholy World

 

  • Does this article resound with you?

 

Prayer Points:

  • As above, imagine God holding you in an embrace like the painting. Can you invite him into a particular situation you are facing?
  • For situations in the world that need God’s embrace more than ever right now, for example for those grieving in Syria
  • For someone you know who needs to feel God’s embrace afresh today

 

Visit: Pop into our Easter Encounter Space at TRINITY Southover, open all day today from 10am – 10pm. Explore the Easter story through the prayer stations.

 

Holy Week Reflection 2 // Monday

Monday – Cleansing of the Temple

 Read: Mark 11: 15 – 19, perhaps 2 or 3 times.

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • What are the things that make you angry? Why not spend some time thinking about a time when you were angry, frustrated or annoyed recently. Spend some time reflecting on how Jesus might have reacted to that situation?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 3 and 4Click on the numbers to go to the audio.

Illustration: Modern interpretation of Christ driving the money changers from the temple’ by Anthony Freda/Daniel Zollinger (click on the title to see the image)

  • What is your instant reaction to this picture? What emotions does it raise in you? Do you think it is fair as a modern interpretation?

Article: Following Jesus Means Being Political and Advocating for “The Least of These”

Following Jesus Means Being Political and Advocating for “The Least of These”

  • Does this article resound with you?
  • Does following Jesus mean being political to you?

 

Prayer Points:

  • If you feel led to do so, pray into the situations you thought about above where you experienced anger.
  • Pray for an issue of injustice, for example those who suffer because of race, religion or sexuality.
  • For those you know who struggle with unresolved anger

Preach // Palm Sunday 2017

 

Palm Sunday 2017 10am // 11.15am at TRINITY, Lewes

Luke 19:28-44

 

>> Holy week timeline slide

 

Anyone know what this is? If you can read the small print you can probably work it out. It’s not a tube map but a cleverly drawn timeline of Holy week. Palm Sunday – Easter Sunday (and beyond), different people in different colours, using accounts from all 4 gospels, including scripture refs.

And we are here – at the beginning of the week, what we now refer to as ‘Palm Sunday’ – when we remember the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, in what is usually called his ‘triumphal entry’. It’s the absolute contrast to what happens in just 5 days time (point to Friday) when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday. And exactly a week before his resurrection which we will celebrate next Sunday.

 

For many of us, if we are honest, this will be a normal week, perhaps a working week, we might not have the time to even consider that we are in Holy week or what it even means to us. We might simply go from one celebration – Palm Sunday today – to the next – Easter Day – without considering the in between. And that’s life, we don’t often have time to stop, reflect and consider until we are forced to perhaps by life’s circumstances or we deliberately choose to take time out to do so.

But I think that if nothing else, at this time of year it’s a great opportunity to really think about the truth of our faith, the unfailing love that was the fuel that led Jesus to the cross.

For us. For me. For you.

It’s easy sometimes to take for granted what Jesus did, we talk about him going to the cross, or we use phrases like ‘laying things at the foot of the cross, or carrying our cross, or we might wear a symbol of the cross, or have one in our homes. But what does it mean to us? Truly and really?

This week I want to encourage you to take some time even if just a few minutes a day to reflect on that and I’ve actually written some notes which will be online if you want to use them. 10 mins each day.

 

And we are going to start that this morning by thinking about triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.

 

////////////

 

 

Palm Sunday

And here today we start at the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday. But it’s not really a beginning at all, it’s really part of the culmination of Jesus’ life, of all that he came to do. And if we think about it in human terms it’s really the wrong way around – in one sense, this is a funeral procession not a triumphal one, and yet the death we see later in the week is the very victory over death.

So, here Jesus comes into Jerusalem in triumph. All who saw and were cheering, or waving branches were welcoming him as a king. It’s joyful, it is a celebration, they waved Palm branches and laid their cloaks before him on the ground. A modern day equivalent might be perhaps the Queen visiting today and hoards of people lining the streets just to see her, and waving union flags or singing the national anthem – it’s that equivalent – a royal welcome. There was huge expectation.

I want to show you a clip of what it might have been like back then…

This is from The BBC’s The Passion series and give us an idea what it might have been like….

>>>> Clip from BBC The Passion

 

I do love this clip, of course it’s full of artistic licence and those petals look distinctly like they are made of modern paper, not very 1st C Jerusalem, but I find it really helpful as a focus.

The scene is so emotive,

The crowds calling his name,

Laying their Cloaks on the ground

Palm branches wafting in the air, people’s faces alight with joy and hope

The petals scattered by smiling children onto a smiling Jesus

All around is celebrating, shouting hosanna, hosanna

Onlookers swept into the delight, led on by the disciples,

 

And yet…. If we fast forward just 5 days

 

Instead, onlookers jeer and question as the disciples scatter

Instead of shouts of praise are angry cries of ‘crucify’ ‘crucify’

Instead of the beauty of crimson petals falling, drops of red blood, fall on those same streets, not falling upon Jesus, but from him

Branches are forgotten, trampled under foot, dusty and dirty, under the feet of soldiers, animals and…

cloaks on the ground are replaced by the heavy feet of Roman soldiers,

hope has quickly vanished and replaced with angry faces.

The atmosphere has darkened, instead of joy, hate fills the air

 

Just to warn you this next clip is quite graphic…

 

>>> Clip 2 Contrast

 

 

Those two clips show such vast contrasts in the life of Jesus just a few days apart and yet, they are both necessary parts of his mission here on earth, his role to save us all from our own brokenness, from the evil inflicted on this world by the Devil.

Triumph and sorrow are all part of his Victory.

And that is what I want to focus on today – the triumph and it’s counterpart sorrow.

I chose that word sorrow carefully, as the opposite to Triumph, because an obvious one might be be defeat or failure, and yet there is no defeat or failure here because as Christians we can be sure of the ending, we know that Jesus overcame death, he did the unthinkable, he won against death. Both spiritually and physically.

And yet he had to experience such extremes of life to do so.

And I would venture to say that it is the same for us. Just as Jesus knew what the ending would be, we know that ultimate truth, that is the truth that should underpin our daily lives, that whatever we face there is an unbelievable future in store for us.  

But before we get there we have to navigate this fallen, yet beautiful, loving and yet hate-filled, triumphant and yet sorrowful world. And that can be flippin’ hard can’t it?

 

And we can just as much see that in things Jesus’ faced

– his friend Lazarus died and he wept at his loss. Even though he knew that death would not win, he still suffered the pain of losing a friend.

 

Isaiah 53: 3 tells us:

He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. (NLT)

 

– The bible tells us God is love and yet we see in the OT God being filled with wrath,

He’s a jealous God

      

You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…

Exodus 20:5

 

– and yet a joy filled God:

For as a young man marries a young woman,

so shall your sons marry you,

and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,

so shall your God rejoice over you.

 

Isaiah 62:5

 

And here in v 41 we see the second of 2 verses where Jesus cries.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

 

 

Whilst our future in eternity is in a place where tears will be dried, there will be no death of crying or pain, as Rev 21 says

 

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

For now, though we do have to face those things and it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. But let’s be sure – suffering and hardship, illness and pain – none of it comes from God. That is not his intention for us. I am still amazed by how many people accept that. Like it’s some kind of punishment doled out on us for some perhaps unperceived sin. Rubbish! Look crappy stuff happens, it’s the result of being in a fallen world, where the devil has a foothold and we all have free choice.

 

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t or can’t use it for his benefit, for I know that he can and does. I think I’ve told before of how when I had a back injury a couple of years ago and had surgery meaning 3 months off work and lengthy recovery period that despite the hideous pain, I can look back on that time as a blessing as God spoke to me so powerfully through it all. I think of people like ‘The Heavenly man’ (Brother Yun) who suffered horrendous persecution in China because of his faith, being in prison, tortured for years and yet now his story touches people all across the world. Thousands of people have heard the gospel through him and his story.

Or a friend of mine who tragically lost her baby at 17 hours old to a Group B Strep infection. In her grief she channelled her pain, led by God and started a charity to raise awareness and to fight for routine testing to stop other babies dying.

Nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom.

However sometimes it isn’t that obvious where God is at work, sometimes it’s a wilderness, or a barren landscape where it is hard just to hang onto an iota of faith because of our journey, let alone see where God is at work.

 

In our passage we read:

 

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

That’s pretty harsh isn’t it? Even in his triumph as he approaches Jerusalem with people calling out praise to him, he weeps in sorrow for a lost city. For the people who won’t enter his kingdom with him…

But I believe that moments of triumph help to sustain us in times of sorrow. God gives us amazing experiences or knowledge of him to hang on to when we need them most.

I love how this is depicted in the second clip I showed you earlier – that in the midst of the pain Jesus was experiencing as he walked to his death carrying the cross, he looked up and saw, one assumes in his imagination, the girls from a few days before scattering petals on him and he seems to gather a renewed strength to carry on.

I wonder what those moments might be for you? A moment of clarity of Jesus at work in you life that gives you strength?

 

////////

 

But our triumphs are not just ours to keep and treasure, they are also for the glory of God.

As the disciples enter Jerusalem with Christ it says

‘’then he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

 

They praise God for the miracles they have seen. And yet the Pharisees, one assumes in fear or offense tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples, to tell them to stop and he simply says, ‘If they keep quiet the stones will cry out.’

Because all creation is made to praise the Lord

 

 

Psalm 66:4

All the earth bows down to you;they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.

 

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

 

 

Isaiah 55:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you  shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 

 

We are part of God’s creation and called to cry out in praise, in worship and in testimony to the greatness of God.

And yet so often we fall short.

And we are not alone.

It’s all very well reading here how the disciples shouted in praise and worship but in 5 days time they all, scatter. Of the 12, John is the only one at the crucifixion. Peter denies Jesus 3 times, despite being warned he will do so, and Judas sells him out.

So we can draw comfort from them, that they were with Jesus every day and still they messed up.

 

////////

 

 but just going back to the stones crying out – I was thinking about Jesus crying over the city of Jerusalem and wondering whether we cry over our own town?

Lewes examples…

It doesn’t matter what our political views or how these situations arose, the question is, do we have compassion? do we weep for those amongst us as Jesus did?

There is so much more we can do – and I am so excited about our Love in Action plans and the vision for the new TRINITY centre at St John’s because it will give us a base from which to see so much more of God’s love spread across our town. We will have a much greater opportunity to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and to see lives transformed by the love of Christ.

Amongst the sorrow I want to seek the triumph of God at work. And I hope we will be united in that as a church!

 

 

//////

 

Because I think that is key to building faith, ours and other peoples – to seek the triumph of God in all we do. To look for those encounters with him that build us up as disciples of Jesus.

And it’s important to seek those moments in our present but also to remember them too from our past. There is such power in reliving things that God has done. I have various ways of doing that – I have a prayer journal, I write on my blog, I even have an ‘enouragement box’ for the days when I need some, it’s full of cards and letters people have written to me or thanked me for something I’ve done or said that has helped them. It was something I heard suggested at college and it’s really helpful. And my prayer journal – of which I have hundreds of filled ones in a box in my study – I look back on to remind myself of where God has been at work in my life. In times of sorrow that’s where I look for reminders of his triumph.

So I want to ask you… Where are those moments of triumph in your life? What is your experience of triumph? What stories of God at work in your life that can sustain you?

 

/////

 

As I said I’ve prepared some notes for this week, as a sort of aid to reflection…

Each day scripture from the Holy week narrative, poetry, images, prayer points and prompts to help you engage anew with the truth of what Christ has done for you.

 

////////

 

So this week as we remember the journey Jesus took from the triumphal entry, let’s take this opportunity to seek him afresh in our lives, perhaps we can look for moments of encounter or triumph, perhaps we can remind ourselves of the triumph amidst our own or others sorrow.

 

….. PRAYER…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Week Reflection Resources

For Holy week at my church, I have gathered a selection of resources and ideas to use as an aid to prayer or as a reflective tool, as we remember the week that Christ. Feel free to reuse or point people to it.

I have included passages of scripture from the Holy Week narrative, paintings and images, poetry in the form of Malcolm Guite’s, ‘Stations of the Cross’ and prayer points, so there is plenty of variety. You might find you just want to focus on one theme, perhaps just choosing to listen to the stations of the cross each day and reflecting on those, or looking at the paintings and seeing what thoughts they raise in you, you can do as much or as little as you would like or have time for.

There is a section for each day and I have kept the items, questions and prayer points simple so that if you are short of time you could do all of it in 10-15 minutes each day, but there is also scope to spend much longer if you would like.

The purpose of this set of resources is to encourage and enable you to interact with the truth of the gospel message afresh in your personal faith. Some of the ideas might be more accessible to you than others, some might challenge you or make you think, others you might simply skim over. There is no right or wrong way of going through this, it is up to you…

 

First one up tomorrow and I’ll publish them each day until Holy Saturday…

Preach // 26th Feb 2017 / Galatians 5 ‘Living by the Spirit’

Galatians 5:13-26 Living by the Spirit 

Given at TRINITY Church, Southover, 6.30 service 26/2/17

  

Right, what do we learn from this passage?

Is it just: no dodgy sex, no getting wasted, no seeking out witches for spells, and definitley no orgys? Sorry if that’s your evening’s plans ruined but it’s there in back and white…

But… this series we are doing this term at the 6.30, is all about what it means to live as a wholehearted disciple of Jesus in the modern world. So there is of course more to it than that.

You know so often we read the bible, or we talk about what we believe, or what the church doctrine says, people get bogged down in the ‘sensational’ stuff – sex, drink, debauchery, and you know Paul does tend to have a habit of talking about this kind of stuff, he’s always dishing out his thoughts, but if we can see beyond that stuff, there is actually a lot more here than just the ‘don’t do this’ instructions.

We are looking today at ‘living by the spirit’ and basically what Paul says is we need the Holy Spirit in our lives. To follow Jesus, to be a disciple of his, we are going to need some help, right? It’s not always easy being a follower of Jesus.

We want to follow him, we try to be like him, we try to act in a way that is honouring to him, but we get distracted – as he says: our flesh desires things that we don’t want it to desire. Anyone do ‘dry January’ or ‘Sugar free February’ or ever given up Chocolate for Lent? If so you might well know about your flesh desiring things you don’t want it to desire…

And actually I don’t think he is just talking about bodily desire here anyway. He is talking about things that draw us away from God, or from a Godly life, perhaps things that tempt us away. So for example he also mentions hatred, discord, jealousy and anger.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us, we cannot do it alone.

 

I love this, in The MSG version (verses 16-18)

 

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

 

I think often we forget about that part of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – or perhaps we are fearful or wary of it. But the HS is a guide, a comforter, one who comes alongside us in our every situation. We might remember the Acts passage where the Holy Spirit falls on the disciples for the first time and they speak in different tongues. Sometimes this is our only view of the HS that he makes people do crazy things. But he’s so much more than that. For example:

 

John 14:26 says he is a teacher, someone to point us to Jesus

Romans 15:13 that he brings Hope

 

The Holy Spirit is meant to be a part of our lives. Jesus sent him for us, he is a part of helping us to live as wholehearted disciples of Jesus.

So how are we guided by the HS? How do we live life ‘by the Spirit’.

Now, I’m not really a 3 points beginning with ‘p’ kind of preacher,

so we’re calling them keys ok? and I reckon that we can pull out some ‘keys’ if you like, some guideines from Paul’s writing, that might be a practical help for us all to live life by the spirit.

 

 1) Listen

We have to listen to God. To listen to what the spirit is saying to us, to be led by him. And we have to know HOW to hear him.

John 14:15-16 says of the Holy Spirit:

‘you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’

 

So, if we are followers of Jesus, then the HS lives within us – he is there, it’s just we don’t often listen! 

In v. 13 Paul notes that we were ‘called to be free’. We have freedom from following Christ – freedom to not be tied down by sin, by the bad stuff we experience in our lives, because, Jesus takes away our shame and our sin, whenever we seek him and say sorry or we invite him into our lives.

BUT we also have freedom of choice, we get to choose how we live our lives and sometimes we just don’t choose very well! And I think a lot of that has to do with what we are influenced by – or by what we listen to in our lives.

So let’s do a little experiment – I want you, in a moment, to make some noise now. I want you to think of one thing that you follow, maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber,

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

 

Calm them down…

Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us, there are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them. For example:

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or it might be the influence of magazines and celebrities, or your boss at work, teachers at school or college, or your friends,

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and learn to hear the HS speaking to us, guiding us. And that will happen differently for each of us. It might be through reading God’s word, or through prayer, hearing a voice in your own head, just an inkling or a feeling, through supernatural circumstances, it’s different for all of us. Which leads us to

 

So to lead onto key no. 2… 

2) Recognise

So we listen carefully and within that – we need to try and recognize the voice of the HS in our lives and amongst the distractions or – the acts of the flesh as Paul calls them – the things that pull us away from God.

So, what distracts you from listening to the Lord? From being led by his HS?

Look, it might be sex or money or drunkenness, as Paul is so fond of highlighting but it might equally as likely be, and I love how the message version puts this,

 

Vs 19-21

a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; trinket gods; paranoid loneliness; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival….

The things we allow in our lives, are the things that influence us and the more we allow them in, the more the influence us.

So here’s an interesting thing.

 

do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that has picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

 

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information.”

They actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, or have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise what are the things that we allow to pull us away from a life lived for God? Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

And you know we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed, is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones, are the most important; or the most vulnerable are the ones telling the most truth.

So the one thing we can and should allow ourselves to be influenced by more than any other voice, the one we could allow to guide ourselves over any other, is the HS. No ifs or buts, it has to be. In any situation.

So we need to listen and recognise his voice above all the distractions. And there’s no easy way to do that actually, it’s about learning and practice, and seeking him in our every day lives . The HS speaks to us all in different ways but one thing you can do, is to seek the fruit of the spirit in your life…

 

Which is no.3

 

3) Seek the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.

We don’t need to focus on the bad stuff. We listen, we recognise it, but then we don’t allow it to take us over. We need to actively seek out the fruit of God’s spirit in our own lives and make that the focus.

And what is that fruit? Well Paul tells us in verse 22, (NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

And here’s the thing, sometimes we can get a bit worried about the Holy Spirit, I expect we’ve all heard or experienced for ourselves people ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’ and then acting crazy or shrieking or shaking or whatever. And if you have nothing to hold that against, or nothing to compare it to, or no theology of it, that can be pretty freaky right?

 

I know people who think the only way to be filled with the Holy Spirit is in that manner, and I don’t think that’s true. Yes it does happen like that sometimes, in the bible we can read in Acts that when the disciples were filled with the HS at Pentecost, people thought they were drunk! God can and does work powerfully in things we might think are a bit bonkers, I have experienced that for myself, but that’s not the only way, he is so much more than that. So if you are someone who finds the whole idea of the HS a bit freaky or scary, let’s look at what Paul says and this is from the MSG version again:

 

 

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

So living with the HS in your lives can and perhaps should lead to these things.

Are these things you could say about yourself? Perhaps not all the time, but when can you see these in your life?

When are you filed with joy?

Or when are you patient? Or when do you have a ‘sense of compassion in the heart’ or serenity?

Because these are all indicators of the HS at work. So if you seek out where those are happening in your life that can help to point you to where the HS is at work and learn to be led more by him.

If we’re having a bad time, maybe getting dragged into temptation, all those things Paul talked about – instead focus on where the fruit of the spirit is in your life, even if it might seem in small doses.

I’m a parent and you know sometimes that is bloomin’ hard, it’s emotional, exhausting, whether they are in nappies and awake 10 times a night, or 16 and slamming doors in your face (it’s also amazing too!!). But when I was having a particularly ‘I’m a crap mother’ morning a while back, and I was just really seeking God in it all, and I felt like he said to me – through the HS, – just take the moments of joy when they are there and celebrate them. Joy – a fruit of the Spirit.

It was a good word, because I was focusing on all the times when I felt I’d done a bad job – like the times I’d shouted at the kids (I would never shout at my children, right…), or the times when I’d missed a school event for work, or as happened the other week, because I’d made spag bol for tea which was of course the thing my children hate most in the world and ‘you know I hate it, I’ve told you 1000 times…’

Anyway, I was focusing on all those times and not the times we’d sat crying with laughter over a particularly spectacular fart (not mine) or a cat video, or the times we’d just sat and chatted about important life stuff unexpectedly, or the time we all went bowling or whatever…

So instead I’ve begun to look for those moments on joy and see where the HS is at work in all our lives.

So look for the moments where the fruit of the spirit is present in your life.

 

 

4) Serve one another in love

One of those fruit is ‘love’. And I’ve talked a lot about love recently, it’s something that I just feel we don’t fully grasp how important it is and how love should be a foundation in our lives.

Here in v’s 13- 14 Paul reminds us that:

rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

 

So we need to act in love and serve one another in love. When we do that we are allowing ourselves to be led by the HS and it helps us to understand others, in serving one another, it helps us to proactively be like Jesus, disciples of his.

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, It is a classic, written in 1960 it addresses issues of racism and prejudice and having to read it at school, I think it was the first time that I really recognised that injustice in the world often comes from peoples own preconceived ideas, that develop into prejudice or hate.

In it one of the main characters, a lawyer, Atticus Finch tries to help his young daughter, Scout, to understand that people are not always what they seem- he says:

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

You know, when you actively seek to love someone, to come alongside them, to serve them, that is in part what you are doing. And it changes us as we do that. But again, I think we need the help of the HS to do that.

 

 

Some of you might have heard of a woman called Jill Saward who died recently. She was a Christian and a campaigner on issues relating to sexual violence. Having been the victim of a violent robbery and rape in her youth,

She was the first rape victim in Britain to waive her right to anonymity which she did in order to campaign and support others.

12 years after the rape, she met one of the attackers and reportedly forgave him for his role in the crime. Jill Saward was quoted as saying

 

“Of course, sometimes I thought it might be quite nice to be full of hatred and revenge. But I think it creates a barrier and you’re the one who gets damaged in the end. So, although it makes you vulnerable, forgiving is actually a release. I don’t think I’d be here today without my Christian faith. That’s what got me through”

Her husband said of her:

“She was always trying to bring joy and love to people’s lives, which is what she does at home too, and with all her friends.”

She truly served people in love…

Now I didn’t know her and nor do I want to twist what she said. But I believe that had to be the work of the Holy Spirit in her life. She could have given in to hatred, or anger and who would have blamed her? But she chose to walk God’s path, I believe she chose to be led by her faith and the fruit of that being that she was able to forgive, to act in love, in peace, goodness, faithfulness. She was able to serve others in love.

 

Now we might not all be called to serve in the way Jill did, or as in the picture before, mother Teresa, but if we allow the HS to lead us to situations where we can love others, I believe we hill reveal himself more and more to us and those around us. After all God is a God of love and so it is in his nature to want to share that love…

 

 

So 4 keys…

 1) Listen to the Holy Spirit

2) Learn to recognize his voice – and recognize the distractions that draw us from God

3) Seek the fruit of the HS in your life

4) Serve one another in love

 

Lead into prayer….