Preach / Remembrance / James 3 / Power of The Word

Remembrance Sunday Sermon / The power of The Word

James 3 – 1-12 

TRINITY 12/11/17 8am/10am/11.15am

 

Did you know that the average person says about 16,000 words a day? I guess that depends on who you are and what you do each day, but taking that as an average, that’s 112,000 words every week, five million words every year.

5 million words in a year.

And that’s just the spoken word, what about those written in emails, tweets, Facebook, texts…

We use words. A lot.

 

 

And I wonder if we could look back over them what we’d think of them?

How many we’d change if we could?

How many we’d be happy to repeat?

How many we might feel really represented who we are?

How many we think are respectful of each other?

How many recognise that we are all children of God?

In fact how many would be truly honouring to a God of love?

 

…o0O0o…

 

James we know wrote these words, in his letter to the scattered church – the 12 tribes scattered among the nations we read at the start. Perhaps to those far from the ‘home church’, from Jerusalem.

Through his words here he poses the challenge of the power of the things we communicate….

…o0O0o…

This week, in thinking about Remembrance Day I’ve been reading some other powerful words. In a book called ‘If You’re Reading this…’ by Sian Price, it features letters home from soldiers over the last 200 years or so, many written in case they didn’t return home.

 

Words like this:

 

I will go and fight with all my heart. Not to win a war, but to come home to my wife and my children. I took an oath to protect my country. Not for the sake of saving the world, but for the hopes that my family wouldn’t have to live in a world filled with hate, fear and sadness …

 

PFC Jesse Givens wrote those words in a letter home. He was deployed to Iraq on Valentines Day 2003 as part of the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. On 1st May, just a few months later Jesse, was killed in a tank incident.

 

…o0O0o…

Jesse was well aware of political input behind the army’s presence in Iraq, and some of his writings express a sense of frustration with that. And yet in his final letter home he wrote not of that but of love:

 

 

My family: I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if You are reading this …

I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in You . . . The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. You will never know how complete You have made me. Each and every one of You. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never even dreamed existed…

 

…o0O0o…

 

 

Words filled with such love like that can be really powerful…

 

…o0O0o…

 

James knows that too as we read in his letter.

It is one of challenging advice, a reminder to stay focused on God and how to do that in practical ways and here his focus is on our words. He of course is focussing on the spoken word but I’m taking it a bit wider to include all the ways we communicate.

It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle. And here he’s reminding the reader, then and now, that the words that come out of our mouths have an impact. They are hugely important.

We’ve already seen how words fllled with love can be so powerful. But what about when they are not?

 

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…

 

The tongue is a world of evil, set on fire by hell….

Phew. That’s strong stuff.

 

But words are so powerful. We’ve seen just last week in the press how the wrong words spoken, or said with the wrong sentiment or spoken to the wrong people can do real lasting damage, can be fanned into flame by the media and cause all sorts of trouble for those who spoke them.

 

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.

 

James uses the example of a ships rudder to show us how powerful our words are. He notes that a large ship can be steered by such a tiny rudder, just like the tongue in our bodies, it is so small but can direct, our entire lives.

I don’t like to criticise others but I wanted to use an example this morning and for once it’s not Donald Trump! Recently there has been some debate over whether celebrity Katie Hopkins should be allowed to speak here in Lewes at the Speakers Festival in a few weeks time.

Katie Hopkins is a celebrity, broadcaster, journalist, who made her name on the TV show The Apprentice and since then seems to have grown a career out of, to be honest, not being not very nice.

Now I don’t know her personally, I only know what she portrays of herself in the media.

She’s rude, she shares her often hateful opinions on a range of topics with a seeming disregard for the feelings of others, she has created a persona who makes quite a hefty living out of being nasty and speaking hurtful words.

The tongue might a small part of the body but it is certainly seems to be driving Katie Hopkins entire life for example. And we can see with the response to some of the things she says that our words don’t just control us, they affect the world around us too. That image of fresh and salt water. You know of you had 2 glasses of water, one fresh and one salty and you poured them together, you’d end up with 1 large glass of salty water, The salt overrides and pollutes the fresh water.

Just as the things we say impact the world around us…

If you say something unkind or rude, or angry cross words, it’s a bit like your words being paint. You splatter your emotions over the person you are speaking to and they carry that with them, and the words – the paint – gets onto others and they in turn end up spreading that paint, or those words where they go…

Our words can spread love and life or they can spread darkness and hate… they can start wars or bring peace, they can honour one another or tear people down.

 

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Proverbs 18:21

 

Or the opposite:

Gracious words are a honeycomb,  sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:24

 

Now probably most of us communicate a mixture of those things. It doesn’t take much, to influence what we say. We take offence at a comment someone has made; we hear of a political decision we don’t feel is right, or we are tired, or anxious about something and we find we have less control over what we say and how we say it…

…o0O0o…

But James goes on to say…

 

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

Imagine, your mouth, your words… we have used our mouths this morning to praise God, to worship him, thank him, ask him for forgiveness. It is a tool to draw closer to God and yet, if we later speak harsh words, it’s like we defile our praise and our worship – how can the two come from the same place? As James says ‘ this should not be!’

And more than that, so often we do speak those harsh words over others. Over those who, like us, were created in the image of God. God used his word so speak creation into being didn’t he, he spoke humanity into being Gen 1:26…

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness

 

God’s people, he spoke into being with his words, and yet we use our words to treat each other, Gods creation, with disdain, or disrespect.

You remember that old playground rhyme: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me…’

The thing is its just not true, sometimes words spoken to us or over us can be just as painful as a physical wound, with much more lasting consequences. That rhyme was a defence mechanism, as if to say to oneself as much as to any bully, I will not let you hurt me.

But we have a better defence mechanism…

 

BUT….

 

There’s always a but or a however, isn’t there, in God’s kingdom…

 

…o0O0o…

 

So, here’s another story, this one from the Father of Kingsman Jamie Hancock…

 

Eddie Hancock, self-educated in Middle East politics, was vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. He knew that his son wanted to go, though, and did not feel he could prevent him. He recalled an incident that revealed how diametrically opposed he and his son were politically, when they were play-wrestling. His son’s wallet fell to the floor and as the contents came out, he says:

 

‘amongst the condoms and credit cards was a small picture of the queen.’ His son solemnly explained, ‘this tells me what I am and who I am.’

 

Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving, He was a subject of the sovereign and he was serving her and her kingdom.

Jamie’s letters home to his parents were sometimes filled with his frustration at being at war, but at the same time never drew him away from who he knew he was and what he was doing, who he was serving. He even wanted to be buried if the time came in his dress uniform, and have the national anthem played at his funeral. Because he knew who he was and what he was doing.

 

Sadly that time did come and Jamie was shot and killed on 6th November 2006.

…o0O0o…

Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving,

It’s the same for us, but whilst we might be citizens of the United Kingdom, our earthly home, our true identity is in being in Jesus’ kingdom. In serving him. In living for him.

And Jesus is the ultimate word. In the beginning of John’s gospel. Jesus is introduced as ‘the word’.

 

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

 

That word is Jesus. And the Greek for word is ‘Logos’ the same word that actually means a word like a written word or a spoken word which you can see throughout the New testament …

But logos was also a term familiar to both Jews and Greeks at the time. For Jews in like a personification as the instrument of God’s will or revelation. God’s spoken revelation…

So Jesus is the ultimate word, the ultimate revelation of who God is…

…o0O0o…

So when we think about our own words, perhaps we need to fill ourselves more with the divine word, the Son of God, in order to help us to continually speak words of love and life

 

Matt 12:34 says

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

 

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.

 

So what are our hearts full of? That is the question?

…o0O0o…

I want to read you a few more words from another letter. These are from Pvt George Henry Davies. George was a protestant missionary until he felt the call to sign up to the army, seeing it as an opportunity to preach and share the gospel around the world.

He was nicknamed smiler by his fellow soliders and he finished his training in November 1916 before being sent out to Belgium to fight. From the trenches he sent many letters home as well as keeping a diary in which he wrote more than one farewell note to his loved ones including these words to his adopted brother:

 

…‘We will meet in Heaven’. If I die I shall be looking for You, I know I shall see You again… on the Eternal Shore. I want You to be always good, spurn from Your heart all evil and impure thoughts. Keep looking upward and onward to Him who loved You and me. Fill Your heart with love for erring humanity. Two things laddie as true and as useful as of old. ‘Love God with all Your heart, and Your brothers and sisters in the wide wide world as Yourself.’ So will Your life be supremely happy and peaceful.

 

That line stands out to me: fill your heart with love for erring humanity. And when you read some more of the things he wrote you can see how his heart was full with just that, God’s love for his people.

There is enough hate in this world, we do not need to add to it.

Just in the last few weeks I’ve seen vitriolic debates online and in person about bonfire and some of the local practices; about which politicians are in the wrong or right, peoples mistakes publically dissected in the media…

God made us all differently, we are ever going to agree on everything are we?! But how we can disagree in love?

And we’ve already read, James saying that humans cannot control our words.

 

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 

It almost makes you feel like what is the point? No human being can tame the tongue, but he also says in v2:

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

And we know there is only one perfect person and that is Jesus Christ, scripture refers to him as flawless, spotless, a lamb without blemish or defect. 

No human being can tame the tongue but God can. Our perfect hope and guide can help us tame what we say.

And of course if we have time, if we have to write a difficult email for example, we can pray first, seek God and not hastily fire it off, but the thing about our mouths is that we are often responding to what is right in front of us, with immediate effect. No time to pray, in fact sometimes no time to think as we just open our mouths and a stream of ungodliness comes out….

So that’s why we need to be focused on Jesus always, filled up with the presence of God. Filling our hearts with love for erring humanity…

Spend time in prayer, read the bible, have good disciplined habits of growing our faith, worship God, practice thanksgiving, do the things that help you to focus on God. Then whatever your heart is full of, will overflow from your mouth…

We need Jesus to fill our hearts so that we can do that…

 

…o0O0o…

PAUSE

This is a day when we remember those who died in service to this country.

Those who joined up willingly, and those who were made to. Those whose lives had really only just begun and those who had lived through war before. I don’t suppose there are many here who remember what it is like to actually live through a war and it is words like those I read this week and shared some of today that help us to understand the emotions, the pain, the anger and the horror and also the pride of serving within it, the calling to serve.

I don’t suppose they ever imagined their words would be immortalized in print for the world to see, impacting the lives of those left behind, those who never knew them.

And we too have an immortal Word in Jesus, we never knew him when he was here on earth, but we can know him now through God’s word, and through prayer and through seeking him in our lives.

And as we seek him and are filled up with the knowledge of him, we too can use our words to be words of love, to bring life, to build up and encourage, to bring respect and to honour those we know and those we don’t.

 

Finish with the words of Pvt George Davies

 

If I live… I will try to make my life more like Christ’s life. If I die I would like You to do this for me. Set Your heart against all greed, selfishness, lust, and dirt my laddie, and remember Jesus Christ IS a stronghold in Whom we can hide. . . .

Good-bye, Your ever loving brother, George Davies.

 

Amen…

 

Preach // ‘Come Follow Me’ // 20th Jan 2017

This is a sermon given at Hurst College Chapel, for the Senior School service based on Matt 4:18-23

FOLLOWING //

 

Ok we are going to start by making some noise. So 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, Donald Trump (I hope not)

 

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

////

 

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 like Jesus did, clearly the fishermen. There are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them.

Like your teachers voices – Study hard and you will do well, get a good career, follow me and I will help you get a good job?

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 magazines and celebs telling us, follow our fitness programme, you too can have abs like these (well actually you wouldn’t want these ones…), you can be uber sexy and attractive if you just do what we say….

Or your friends – hey come to this great party it’s going to be amazing, no adults, vodka, and guess who is going to be there….

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? 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 that will be different for all of us.

 

Story of a young girl //

So, I want to tell you a story, it’s about a young woman, at age 19 she found she could not hack all of those voices calling out to her. She couldn’t take the pressures they put on her – study hard, be good, to be skinny and look amazing, do well, get to uni, have a career…

And so she gave up her uni place, earned a bit of cash working in a local pub and as soon as she could she legged it to the furthest place she could go, the other side of the world, Australia, and instead of listening to all those voices, she decided simply to ignore them all and follow her own desires.

She wanted her own way. And why wouldn’t she, at 19, the, world lay at her feet.

And it was great for a while and she had a lot of fun. No responsibilities, in an amazing country, in the sunshine, bars, surf, surfers… what’s not fun about that?!

But things didn’t quite turn out how she had planned. Very quickly she went from following her own way, to following the pull of others around her, of the bright city lights, and very soon of drugs, of alcohol and sex. And before she knew it, it wasn’t her path she was following, it wasn’t her own desires, her own dreams, but instead she just looked for the next fix, in whatever form that took.

So instead of listening to her own voice, she simply got sucked in by others that were louder and more destructive, did not have her best interests at heart.

 

/////

Simply, she was just looking for her own voice, or her own identity. I think most of us want something to follow, a path, a label. When we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What we follow reflects who we are, or who we choose to be or how we want to be seen.

So we could ask ourselves, like the fishermen in our passage, where do we throw our nets? What are we fishing for? Because you have so much more choice than those fishermen. The possibilities of what you can do, who you can be in the 21st century, are endless… aren’t they?

 

/////

 

But like our young girl so often the voices that call out to us are distorted, skewed, they don’t seek to encourage us, build us up or lead us down the right path.

Here’s an example, 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 ahs 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”  because 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, have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise that the voices we listen to, the things we follow, what we might think is the truth isn’t always the truth. Truth becomes relative to each person. Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

For example, because of my job I hang out with a lot of clergy, a lot of people who work for the church, which means sometimes my view on what people think of the church is wrong. So I have to intentionally choose to hang out with people outside the church who remind me what real life is!

For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar. And yet women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but 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, or the ones telling the most truth. Choose carefully people.

 

///////

So back to our girl in the story – what was her truth?

Well her truth was that she thought she was a misfit, that no one understood her, that she was the only one like her. She was a creative type, in a largely academic environment. Her parents had good careers and wanted that for her, when she just wanted to have the freedom to paint and to travel and discover and see.

She was seeking her own identity, who she was, but by following all the wrong paths.

But there is a happy ending to her story, because she eventually found one path that allowed her the freedom to just be who she was. To recognise her identity, and yes, it was in following Jesus. In hearing his call to ‘come, follow me’ and doing just that.

In the midst of her brokenness, pain and hurt, in amongst all those voices calling out to her, for one moment his voice was the clearest. And I suppose I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, that the reason I know about this young woman’s story is because it is my story.

From that moment of hearing his voice, my life was turned upside down (in a good way!) and of course I’ve only shared a small part of the story today, but what I can tell you is that following Jesus is better than any drink, any high, or any shag. It is like my whole life has been pointing to this (dog collar)

You know, if at 19 someone had said to me, in the midst of all that I was doing, that you are going to become a Vicar, well I would have laughed, a lot. In fact I still find it pretty bonkers that God would call someone like me to do this.

But you know that’s what he does, Jesus calls us as we are, just like the fishermen on the boat – he didn’t say go sort yourselves out then follow me, no, they followed him at once, as they were, probably filthy and to be honest, stinking of fish!

And hey, 19 year old me would think that the 40something me is very uncool and boring, and what the F happened to me, to become a Vicar! but I actually don’t care because when I heard his call, for the first time in my life I knew that it was right.

 

Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that he gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we follow him.

I think it’s much harder to hear his voice today because there are so many voices calling out ‘come follow me’ but it is there, for each of us if we want to hear it. and it won’t make you instantly perfect or stop you doing the things you enjoy (well some of them maybe!), but it might just take you places you never dreamed you’d go, and it might just help you to find the truth in a world that is full of lies.

So I want to encourage you today to just listen to the voices calling out to you. Think about what truth they are telling you? Think about what you are following. And if you can hear that voice of Jesus, saying ‘come follow me’, why not give it a listen? What have you got to lose? If God could take someone like me, broken, and walking a dangerous path to destruction, and turn my life around, then he is there for anyone….

 

 

 

 

 

PREACH // John 20:1-18 / Mary Magdalene & the transforming power of Jesus

Preached at TRINITY, 9.30am // 20th November 2016 & 10am and 11.15am 27th November

‘The transforming power of encountering Jesus’

 

48

Mary Magdalene //

The star of this piece (apart from Jesus obvs) is Mary Magdalene. Now I am sure it won’t be any surprise to you that I am a bit of a feminist, and so I really want us to start by taking a look at Mary Magdalene this morning.

So let me ask you, what do we know about her?

Answers…

Prostitute, Jesus’ wife, 7 demons cast out of her…

She is commonly referred to in modern Christian thought as a prostitute. But I want to tell you there is really no evidence for this whatsoever, it is total conjecture and theory throughout history that has been perpetuated down the years. So let’s just put something to right here! I don’t know really where this idea first came from but some suggestions are:

Perhaps this theory came about because when she is first mentioned in Luke 7, it comes straight after the passage where the ‘sinful woman’ anoints Jesus feet with perfume.

Or perhaps because when she is mentioned in Luke 8 with other woman, they are talked of having their own means, their own finances – how did they get them?

Or perhaps it is because nowhere is there any hint of a mention of family or lineage.

Or perhaps because we know that 7 demons were cast out of her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).

But is all of this enough evidence to label her as a whore? I don’t think so! Pretty weak case I’d say!

So what do we know about her…

In Luke 8 we read:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

She had demons cast out of her. And that she had her own means. So I would like to put forward another hypothesis here. Perhaps she actually came from a wealthy family – after all Magdalene where she came from (hence the name) had a prosperous textile industry. Imagine then she was the daughter of a wealthy family, who had tragically been afflicted by demons. What do you think her family’s response might be on seeing her free and healed from this? I wouldn’t be surprised if they literally threw money at Jesus! Or perhaps she decided to follow Jesus after this, and they were only too happy to support her in it?

Now of course her family aren’t mentioned as they are with some of the disciples, and many of them left home without even a backward glace, just following Jesus on his command ‘come follow me’.

And well as I said that’s just another theory, but we do know she was demonized…

So then we can be sure that her meeting with Jesus was more than a fleeting one – more than just a suggestion to follow him – I mean let’s just imagine her state, as demon possessed. In other biblical accounts of the demonised, we hear people are:

Mute (Matt 9:32)

Blind and mute (Matt 12:22)

Legion – uncontrollable, crying out, cutting himself with stones….

 

Mark 5:1-20

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

 

Can you imagine then, if you had been living with any of that and then you were healed and freed from it? The man with the legion of demons was said to then be

‘clothed and in his right mind’ and talking with Jesus. Having been shunned by society, possibly locked or chained up, and then one man frees you from this? What would you want to do?
Well, we know what Mary did, she devoted her life to following him.

And let’s just be clear here, she was just devoted to him, any why wouldn’t she be? Again there is no evidence whatsoever of her being in a relationship with him (which has also been suggested). But she knew who he was. She knew her life had been transformed by the power of Jesus.

In fact there is actually nothing bad or negative written about her – she did not deny Jesus (John 18, Luke 22), nor did she betray him (John 13, Luke 22), or make foolish comments (Luke 9:55 calling down from from heaven). And where she is mentioned with other women – Mark 16: her name is sometimes put first, before even Mary, Jesus’ mother…

She was there through it all. At his trial:

Mark 15:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs…

At his crucifixion:

John 19:25

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

She had cared for Jesus own needs, she had followed him everywhere, she was not afraid or hiding at the trial or at the crucifixion.

And now here we see her in this passage, the first one to find the tomb empty, the first one to see the risen Lord, and the one to tell the other disciples that he was alive.

Let’s just clarify that, of the 12, or of those who knew Jesus and followed him, Mary M (according to John) was the first one to see him, the one to break the news. Mary Magdalene who history has suggested was a prostitute and sinner.

 

Theologian Tom Wright notes that:

John has told us nothing of her history; the little we know, we know from the other gospels. But her place here is spectacular. She is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles: the first to bring the news that the tomb was empty. And… a greater privilege yet: the first to see, to meet, to speak with the risen master himself.

 

He calls her the apostle to apostles?!

You know if anyone wanted to make this story up, she is the absolute last person they would have chosen. So it’s pretty important that she is the one chosen here for that task.

And I just want to say that I am so glad to be in a church that supports women in leadership, I have been so blessed by peoples support on my journey to ordination, but as we know not everyone agrees. But this passage alone surely has to cause them some doubt!

 

Mary Magdalene’s encounter //

But I’m not here to give a feminist manifesto! Mary Magdalene is an important player in Jesus life story that’s why I am focussing on her here. And as always we must ask ourselves, what can we learn from her? What can we learn from this passage and her interaction with Jesus?

Well I think there’s a message for us all here and it is:

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

There is a situation and in that an encounter with the Lord, transformation takes place and then the good news is shared.

Any God given situation should lead to encounter with Jesus. Any encounter with the Jesus should transform those within it. And those who are transformed should be compelled to share the news of who Jesus is.

So this passage starts with Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb early in the morning, One commentator suggests that in order for it be dark it would have been between 3-6am in the morning which might seem like a strange time for a woman at that time to be wandering around in the dark. But there was a Jewish custom to mourn at the tomb of a loved one for 3 days after the death, as it was thought the soul was still present for that time. Perhaps she was going there to mourn, to just sit and be there.

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

Situation

So here she is, this is the situation she faces, an empty tomb. Jesus’ body gone. What are her emotions? Fear? who has taken the body? So she runs back to get help. Peter and we assume John (the beloved disciple the text says) run back to the tomb with her. See the scene and then head back to the others.

But Mary Magdalene, she stays. She weeps, looks into the tomb. And here is her encounter. Firstly with the angels, and then Jesus himself.

 

And she doesn’t recognise him, thinks he is the gardener.

 

I love verse 15 where he says to her:

“Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

 

Because that surely is a key question to everyone who lives: who or what are you looking for? So often we seek our answers anywhere but in Jesus. This is a key question – WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?!

And how often do we not recognise Jesus anyway? I think Jesus probably comes to us many times, even daily, and we don’t see him. But especially in times of trial – we are caught up in our own emotions, our own situation just as Mary Magdalene was here. We can’t see beyond the immediate situation and yet God longs to appear to us, if we would just open our eyes!

Here of course it is in mentioning her name ‘Mary’ that she finally recognises him.

 

And what a beautiful moment. ‘Mary’. He just says her name and in that her world is changed, transformed. Suddenly the one who was dead, gone, whose body has even been moved as she thought, is there in front of her and she knows him. (And is if she needed any extra confirmation, there are the angels too!)

Just in a moment – in him saying her name. And you know what, he knows our names too…

 

 

In Isaiah 43:1 the Lord is talking to the people of Israel and says:

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine’

 

And Isaiah 49:16, also to Israel:

‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’

 

and in John 10:3 Jesus talks of himself as the Good Shepherd:

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

 

Jesus knows your name too.

 

 

 

I wonder if you can remember the first time you encountered Jesus? Perhaps you have always known him with you, which is a wonderful gift so many of us don’t have, or perhaps there was a moment of realisation?

For me, one thing was a moment of realisation that I was loved. Truly and utterly, unconditionally. Phil, my husband, says, as we fell in love with God, we fell in love with each other all over again. And the knowledge that we were ourselves loved as we were, enabled us to experience God’s love for ourselves and in our lives, and to pour out that love on those around us. It was a transformation in our relationship and in our lives.

 

And here we see a moment of transformation –

as Mary Magdalene, seeing Jesus afresh, in a new encounter with him – she is transformed.

 

From weeping in grief and sorrow to the realisation he is there, she turns towards him, shouts out ‘rabboni’ and then what would be your next reaction? I think I would fling myself at him hugging him! Wouldn’t you?

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And I think that is exactly what she did, when we read the next line:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father…

‘do not hold on to me’, I just imagine her clinging on to him, as if he might disappear again!

 

She is transformed, from grief to joy, in an instant… Any encounter with Jesus should bring about transformation like that.

And transformation of course should happen when we meet Jesus for the first time, when we become Christians, but we need to go on being transformed into the likeness of who he is. Mary Magdalene knew Jesus, she had already decided to follow him, to support him, to care for him, but this is another encounter, a new step.

Do you have those moments? When you feel something new in your faith, a step forward, a realisation? I’ve had those moments in prayer, by myself or when other are praying for me; or in reading scripture, when suddenly something you’ve read 100 times before stands out in a new way and challenges your thinking or shows you something you’d not seen before of who Jesus is.

Or maybe you’ve had a more ‘powerful encounter – you’ve been healed, had an answer to prayer, seen a miracle happen before your very eyes.

Let’s be open to those things, let’s be seeking those things. I mean here for Mary Magdalene she wasn’t seeking the Lord particularly, she was lost in grief, but how much more do we see, recognise, realise the presence of od when we have our eyes open, our eyes fixed on him?

We could start each day by saying, ‘Lord show me a transforming encounter today’, or ‘I want to see you more in this day’, ‘show me where you are today’, ‘give me open eyes and ears to see and hear you today’…?

 

 

And what do we do with those encounters? Those moments?

 

Situation – encounter – transformation – sharing

 

And the response to an encounter with Jesus – should be sharing about it, telling the good news – evangelism!

As Jesus tells Mary Magdalene (though I’m not sure he needed to!) she goes and finds the disciples and shares what she has seen ‘I have seen the Lord’ and tells them all that he has said.
When I first became a Christian I described the desire in me to tell people about it, as being like feeling I needed a loud haler that I could stand on the street corner with and wanting to shout out who Jesus was and what he’d done in our lives. I could happily have done that – though I don’t think it’s a recommended form of evangelism TBH!

The Rev. Frank Teesdale, pastor of Garfield Ridge Baptist Church, preaches the Gospel at 18th Street and Loomis Boulevard in Chicago on Friday, June 10, 2011. (Terrence Antonio James/ Chicago Tribune) B581333380Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS, NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, NEW YORK TIMES OUT, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...

Instead I began to write about it and years later I’m still writing that blog! Because there is something about a transforming encounter with Jesus that compels us to share it with others.

And it is so powerful…

 

I love hearing people’s stories of how God has been at work in their lives, don’t you? It’s just so encouraging and inspiring. Last Sunday at the 6.30 we heard from a guy whose family have disowned him for his faith. And yet the ways God had worked in his life were just staggering.

 

At my last church, there we met a woman who was healed of terminal cancer.

I often start my day by asking God to use me to reach people. On holiday one time, I felt compelled to go and talk to a chap at a table in the restaurant where we were eating. Thankfully he spoke english… As I shared what I felt God was saying, he looked at me in total disbelief as I saw him transformed before my very eyes. He was not a Christian but had spent the day sitting in a church wondering what to do with his life and every word I spoke to him was an answer to that.

 

Testimony is so powerful…

 

Revelation 12 talks about a great battle in heaven and notes this:

 

Rev 12:11

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…

 

Victory was in what Jesus did and in out telling of what Jesus has done…

 

In Luke 8:38-39 – the man with all those demons:

begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,  “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

 

In John 4 we read of the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke to at the well, telling her everything she had done and that he was the water of life… she went back to her town and told them all about him and v 39 says:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…

 

In our Situations – look for encounter, be ready to receive transformation and then go and share what the Lord has done…

 

So I want to ask you today, where are you encountering Jesus in your lives right now? How are you enabling others to encounter Jesus? how are you sharing what he has done for you?

 

…..lead into ministry…

 

 

 

JOY // Guest post by Amanda Robbie

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my one word for the year). This month we have a post from Amanda Robbie, otherwise known as ‘The Vicar’s Wife’.

 

 

Where is joy when life is grey and dull, when life is hard, when life is just boring and feels like an uphill journey?

Last year I was given a beautiful Christmas decoration.  It’s made of twisted twigs and is decorated with tiny red seed-like beads. The twists and turns and clusters of beads spell out a word. The word is JOY.

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In difficulties and sorrows, when we are striving to live for God in a godless world, when we are battling against our own sinful nature and against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, that is when we sow tears. Often it’s just tiny tears of disappointment and discouragement. Although sometimes there are great buckets of pain and struggle.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:5-6

Psalm 126 compares tears to seeds, sown by God’s people. And we see that those tear-seeds grow into sheaves of grain, and God’s people end up singing songs of joy, bringing in the harvest. I can’t say that’s how I usually see my difficulties and battles : that God is growing something with my tears that will start me singing.

So, as I face daily challenges, inside my heart and outside in my life, I want to remind myself that I will reap with songs of joy. And if I will sing songs of joy in the future, I can begin to sing them now. As the tiny seeds spell out JOY in my Christmas decoration, so tiny seeds of tears will grow into great songs of joy over the harvest that the Lord is gathering in.

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Amanda Robbie is a former designer of sewage works who is now a vicar’s wife in a multicultural urban parish in the West Midlands. She likes writing and baking. but not filing or clearing up. You can find her on Twitter @thevicarswife or (somewhat erratically) on her blog .

PREACH // Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016

Daniel 3: ‘Three Friends Trust’ // 23 Oct 2016 // 6.30pm TRINITY Church

 

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In 2005 8 men and 1 woman were arrested in Bali for attempting to smuggle a large amount of heroin into Australia. Amongst them were Andrew Chan, aged 21 and Myuran Sukumaran, aged 24.

They were sentenced to death for their crime.

For 10 years legal wrangles continued between Australia and Bali, high profile celebrities supported the campaign to have their sentences reduced or for them to be returned to Australia. Throughout this time both men became Christians, their lives being transformed by the love of Christ, in their darkest hour, with Chan even becoming ordained as a Christian minster during this time.

However, the Balinese authorities were unrelenting despite the obvious rehabilitation of the men and finally last year a date was set for the execution.

This is from a newspaper report at the time:

Strung to a pole and staring down at the weapons pointed at their hearts, the prisoners defiantly sang Amazing Grace in the moments before they were executed.

Pastor Karina de Vega described to the Sydney Morning Herald the extraordinary scenes of the prisoners “praising their God”. “It was breathtaking,” said De Vega. “This was the first time I witnessed someone so excited to meet their God.”

They reportedly refused to wear blindfolds so they could look their executioners in the eye, and as they sang in unison the bond between them was visceral (deep and inbuilt), said the pastor.

“They bonded together,” she said. “Brotherhood. They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir.” After singing Amazing Grace they moved on to Bless the Lord O My Soul. The order to shoot was issued before they finished…’

Such conviction to one’s faith is something I am sure we all hope we would show in times of great trial, but for most of us it won’t be tested in such a dramatic way as it was for Andrew and Myuran, or for Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego.

What must it take to be able to stare death in the face? to face pain, uncertainty, absolute fear and yet to be so sure of God, to have so much trust in him that nothing can away us from our absolute love and devotion to him? For Shadrach, M & A to face it with such conviction, such defiance in the face of the kings death threats? For Andrew and Myuran to walk to their death singing – in fact encouraging all the prisoners to sing and praise God, perhaps helping people to meet Jesus in their final moments? They had amazing faith, amazing trust in God, amazing devotion to him, but also they had each other.

We are just at the beginning of our new series, Seeing Jesus through Old Testament Heroes. Kirsty kicked off us last week looking at Samson and being a weirdo! And we are specifically looking at how these old Testament heroes point to Jesus.

 

You know I love this quote from Martin Luther –

 

The bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid

Luther was a Priest, a Monk, very intelligent, well educated and knew the bible inside out. He was hugely influential in the reformation – a time which challenged some of the doctrine of the church and their practices. Luther taught that salvation had nothing to do with good deeds, or doing right but is only received only as the free gift of God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus has to be our focus. And in fact all of the bible points to Jesus.

Not sure I’ve said before but something like only 5% of all preaching is from the OT (not sure how they worked that out) (one stat here says less than 20%) and yet ¾ of our scriptures are in the OT – we cannot ignore them! These were the Jewish scriptures, the scriptures that Jesus himself would have known, loved and spoken from. Of course they were written before Jesus arrived on earth but the Jews believed there was a Messiah coming, they looked forward to that day he would arrive, their Saviour on earth.

We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT scriptures. So if we only read the NT then it’s like just watching the ending of a movie, missing the whole build up, it doesn’t means as much if you don’t know where it’s all coming from.
So it’s great that we are looking at OT heroes and how they point to Jesus.

This evening specifically through the story of Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego in the book of Daniel we are going to look at:

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things
  • Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes no him and him only
  • Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship.

…oo0O0oo…

 

  • Trust in Jesus – completely trusting in our amazing God, in all things

trust3JPG Proverbs 3 is all about wisdom and advice for a Godly life, it’s a great passage, go and check it out later, but v 5-6 says this: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Amazing words and quite challenging. TRUST IN THE LORD with everything… don’t trust your own thoughts, just be led by him.

In the message version is says this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.

Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health,  your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

What does it mean to trust God? Just that – bring him into every part of your life, every thing you do, every choice or decision, every action. And the rewards are huge. Do we entrust our lives to him – every area, our decisions, big and small (not, perhaps, what colour socks to wear in the morning.)
Which we might think ok I can do that, but what about in the tough times? When the really hard things come along, temptation kicks in or we face something hard?

For Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego, it is clear that they totally trusted God, with everything.

In V16 after Nebuchadnezzar has threatened to throw them all in the fiery furnace – they show no fear at all – in fact the opposite, total defiance. It does remind me a little bit of my kids when they are being a bit antsy and answering back, like ‘ well, fine, I don’t need my ipad anyway’. Kind of ‘I am so unphased by what you are saying…’ There’s that almost teennage arrogance – ‘we don’t need to defend ourselves before you…’

Except its not arrogance, it’s confidence, because they completely trust in God.

 

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

 

I think it’s all about the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on what was right in front of them they looked to God.

 

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It’s like looking at a painting close up you just focus on the bit in front of you, it’s just a blurry mess. But when you stand back you see the whole thing.

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And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were able to see the whole thing because they knew God – they had experienced him. So when faced with something that was right before their eyes, they could stand back and see the bigger picture, see where God was.

And what happened? – perhaps one of the clearest pointers to Jesus in the Old Testament: v:24-5

Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?”

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.”

 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Don’t forget they didn’t know Jesus, they believed a Messiah was coming but they didn’t know when or who, perhaps this was Jesus walking in the fire with them, but they very fact that Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as a ‘son of the gods’ points us to the fact that there was a bigger picture and that God was at work here.

S, M & A they were fully persuaded. Fully focused on God. Nothing could make them bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue – no threats, no consequence, no punishment. They were fully persuaded of the promises of God and in their obedience to him. 

Are we totally focused on Jesus? Do we trust him in all things? Can we step back and see him in the bigger picture?

 …oo0O0oo…

  • 2) Focus on Jesus – absolutely fixing our eyes on him and him only

 

So how do we trust in God completely as they did? We put our focus on Jesus completely.

S, M & A model this for us, they are so focused on God and won’t let anything tear them away from him.

Now these guys had been through the mill. They have ended up here because Nebuchadnezzar has already attacked Jerusalem (Daniel 1). Not only did he carry off plunder and things from the temple but people too.

These guys are from the nobility, the royal family and Nebuchadnezzar takes them and orders that they be trained to serve him. They have gone from living in the palace as nobility to being forced to serve those who live in another palace. It’s like the UK being attacked and Will & Kate being taken off somewhere and being forced to be a servant to a king in another country. It’s shocking, it’s demeaning, they have been taken by force from a position of great power and authority and reduced to this.

I wonder how that felt? They could have been angry at God – why did he let this happen? Why did he not rescue them? Why had he reduced them to such a position?

Real faith means obeying God even under difficult circumstances. And they just continue to honour God.

We read in Daniel 1 how he refuses to eat the meat provided by the king – it was ‘defiled’ – had probably been offered to one of the Babylonian Gods. Instead they ate vegetables and water and yet God made them healthier and better nourished than anyone else!

1:17 tells us that God gave them gifts of understanding, knowledge, literature, and that Daniel could understand visions and dreams.

In fact later Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream when no one else can and the king falls down and says ‘Surely your God is the God of the gods and the Lord of kings….

So they have seen God at work and are completely focused on him, even when threatened with death, they refused to worship the idol set up. Anything that would take their focus from God, they were not interested.

I wonder if we can say the same – that we are so focused on Jesus, we refuse to worship other idols?

Because I think often we get a bit disillusioned and we get drawn away from fixing our eyes on Jesus.

Old Testament idols were literally sculptures or carvings or things that people bowed down in front of as we read earlier (3:44)

But what are our idols? What draws us away from focusing on Jesus? It might not be a an actual sculpture but I think an idol is anything that takes our focus from Jesus – anything we spend more time focusing on, than on Jesus.

What are the things that take your focus away from Jesus? What are the things we might see as idols in our lives? What does our society encourage us to worship and focus on rather than God?

 

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Ourselves? ‘Because you’re worth it’ – society teaches us we can do what we want when we want and no one has the right to take it away from us…

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Do we make an idol of ourselves or our lives – I must have the next pair of Nike trainers, the latest hoody, or pair of jeans, I must look good, have perfect ‘on fleek’ eyebrows, defined cheekbones….

Our stuff – what about our stuff? Are we more focused on our possessions than on following Jesus? Do we worship our iphones and ipads for example…

 

Or do we worship other people? If only I could be more like them…?

Are we led by our friends, influenced by them and not by Jesus? Or sports teams? Frankly in our house I’m not sure that Seagulls aren’t an idol ;) My son’s room is like an albion shrine!

Or social media – here’s a biggie – how many of us spend more time on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram than you do reading your bible? I actually want to challenge you this week to time it.

 

Anything that draws our focus away from Jesus can be an idol. And the bible is pretty clear about worshipping idols – basically it’s a bad thing!! For example:

  

Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Ezekiel 36:18

They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” 2 Kings 17:12

 

 

Don’t get me wrong it’s hard! In fact I think the devil does everything he can to draw our focus away from Jesus. Distraction – it’s one of his biggest tools! And in our society there are so many things to distract us and draw us away from Jesus.

If we look at Shadrach, Messach and Abednego, I wouldn’t have blamed them for giving in and going along with what the culture around them was doing – it would have been far easier, let’s face it. Just eat the food you are give, do as you are told, join in and worship the statue when told to. It took real guts to be different – and it’s the same for us. It’s not always going to be easy, we might face trials along the way, but let’s not despair!

I read this quote this week:

Don’t despair. Because when the devil turns up the heat, God does too.

I like that – so appropriate here, we might not get thrown into an actual fire of course (I hope) but life brings us our own fires – the trials and difficulties we face. But you know, what we see with Shadrach, Messach and Abednego is that God doesn’t save them from the fire, he doesn’t stop them going into it, but he goes through it with them – we see him in the fire, the fourth person. And it’s the same for us. And you know what I think is amazing is that when they came out they didn’t even smell of smoke! What a great picture for us.

  …oo0O0oo…

 

3) Together with Jesus – walking out our faith in fellowship with others – friendship

So, how do we remain strong and focused on Jesus? Just like S, M & A did – with each other 

Life is pretty tough if you do it alone. And I know, I’ve been there. In my rebellious younger years which I have mentioned before. I was fiercely independent, not really knowing what friendship was, not letting people into my own life, my space. I had friends but only on the surface, I’m not sure there was anyone I could have called on if I was in deep need.

But God creates us to live in relationship with others. He himself is three persons, living in unity together. Man was not complete alone so God made him a companion. Jesus had his disciples, Moses had his brother Aaron, Paul had various companions – Timothy, Silas, Titus.

In fact there are few positive examples of people in the bible going it alone.

– we are not achieving all we can if we try and do life alone.

 

One example I love is in Exodus 17 where there is a battle going on and all the time Moses hands on the air, they are winning but he gets tired and his arms come down and they start losing. So Aaron and Hur hold his arms up.

We all need someone who can hold our arms up.
Daniel, S, M & A stuck together and in that there is great strength and support.

Daniel gets promoted by the king earlier on having interpreted a dream of his but he doesn’t leave behind his friends, instead he asks the king to promote them too, and he does (Dan 2:48-9)

When we stick together we are accountable to each other, when one person is struggling, the other can pull them up. When one person is in need, ill or having a tough time, the others can support them and help them. When someone’s focus in drawn away from Jesus, the others can draw it back.

1 Thess 5: 11-15 tell us:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Friendship – much easier to stay strong in a group together
Castellers de Vilfranca – a Catalunyan tradition in Spain – building towers of people. – they way they can do something so unbelievable is in their mutual strength and be focussed on the task to achieve amazing things.


We need that too. We need to trust in God and in each other – recognising God in each other

Preach // John 18: 1-14 // The Kingdom Contrast

Preach on John 18: 1-14 // The Kingdom Contrast

(Preached at TRINITY Lewes: South Malling 25/9/16 & Southover/St John’s 9/10/16)

Recap:

Series in John’s gospel

Jesus has been praying, for himself, the disciples, then for all believers – we have looked at over the last few weeks. and now they head out to the olive grove.

This is a key moment. This arrest is really the point of no return. Jesus is in total submission to his Father’s will. And it puts into play the beginning of the biggest turning point ever in history.

Can we begin to imagine what was going on?

Jesus leaving the security and safety of that upper room, taking with him his faithful followers, the disciples. He knows he is going to his death. I mean I wonder how much strength did it take him to leave then. He is fully divine but also fully human – did he feel the fear? What thoughts were going through his mind? Was his heart racing?

And the disciples – what were they thinking? Were they mulling over what Jesus had just said and prayed? And then, the soldiers arrive – was there confusion among the disciples then? Did they wonder what was going on?

You know, this scene reminds me of those high drama movies where you get to a point when feel like everything is lost, nothing can save the day, all the plans and hopes have gone, and yet there is still half an hour to go in the movie. Something has to happen to change this right?

Wasn’t Jesus supposed to win the day? Like some ancient James Bond? Wasn’t he supposed to overcome the forces of evil, defeat his arch enemy?

It’s that point we are at.

Well of course we know that he did, he does. But back then, I think the disciples would have been in turmoil, in confusion, anger, disappointment, and many more emotions flying around.

This is not what they expected.

And in fact, this is a passage full of that – of opposites, or contrasts. And I think it truly highlights for us the difference between kingdom living- living for the kingdom of God, seeing things as God does,

and earthly living – seeing things through our own eyes.

We aim for one, but often fall to the other.

And living between those two extremes is a tough place to be. At the end of the day, that is why we need Jesus, because we can’t live in those extremes in our own strength, we need his grace to get us through.

So we are going to look at the contrasts in this passage – The kingdom contrasts and what they mean for us.

 

Main passage //

 

So, I’m going to highlight 3 areas:

1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.

2) A Loving response – Jesus’ actions here, filled with love and compassion, even in the face of such anger and hate.

3) And finally redemption. A great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…

 

…o0O0o…

 

1) Judas vs Jesus – what we do for love and what tips us over the edge.

The fine line between love and hate

So the villain of this piece is clearly Judas isn’t it? And we are going to be looking at him a bit this morning. And I don’t know about you but I have to admit I feel a bit sorry for Judas. And I will tell you why.

Did you know historically, particularly in the middle ages and renaissance art, Judas has been portrayed in artwork with red hair.

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and in an article on Judas and red hair I read this:

During the Victorian era, red hair was viewed with almost as much repugnance as sex, vice, and those who worked in trade. The colour was thought to signify ferocity, excessive passion, cruelty and treachery, and any ginger-headed character appearing in a novel could immediately be understood to be a ne’er-do-well.

Hmmm… well, sorry, your new Curate may not be as good as you had hoped…

But seriously…. I do actually feel a bit sorry for Judas, (red hair or not, which is unlikely in the Middle East 2000 years ago.) Knowing that Jesus had to die, didn’t someone have to do this? Didn’t someone have to do the dirty work?

Because actually a bit earlier and we heard this a few weeks ago in John 17:12, John’s gospel says this:

 

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled…

 

except the one doomed to destruction? And so that scripture could be fulfilled?

Didn’t someone have to do this?

Or we could also ask – why did he do it – as I am sure people over the centuries have done?

 

Well in John 13 and in Luke 22 the scripture says that Satan entered Judas.

I don’t know I think that sounds like an easy answer – Satan made him do it. Whilst I believe the enemy can influence us and our behaviour, we usually do have a choice.

And I think here it was Judas’ own emotions and feelings that led him down this path of betrayal.

And actually it’s a perfect example of humanity. That, I think we can all be led to places we might not think we can go –

in frustration, in anger, in disappointment perhaps. Surely we can all think of times where we have behaved in a way that we would rather forget?

And that behaviour was probably provoked in some way, by our own emotions or experiences.

 

Well have you heard the saying:

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” It’s attributed to Shakespeare, although what he actually said was:

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.”,

it’s from All’s Well That Ends Well William Shakespeare

 

Is that what happened to Judas? Did he feel that his expectations were not met, did he feel let down?

 

In Matthew 26 we see the potential origins of this. This is where a woman comes and pours very expensive perfume over Jesus.

The text tells us that the disciples were indignant, why this waste?

Is that what Judas was angry about? Was this the last straw? as he straight away heads off to find the Pharisees. Is he angry? Frustrated. Disillusioned maybe?

Something has taken him from following Jesus, having given up all, to follow him, to betraying him. A massive contrast in behaviour. So why?

Well we know that often the disciples just didn’t get what Jesus was saying, they thought he was going to overthrow the Romans and be rightful king of Israel. Was Judas following him on this basis? Did he think he was going to bring about a new kingdom, politically, there and then?

Perhaps he had a moment of realisation that this was not was Jesus would do? In the prayer Jesus’ just prayed it was pretty obvious he was about to leave them, even if they didn’t understand why or how. Was Judas overcome with frustration? Did he feel let down by someone he had trusted so completely?

>> I wonder, if you have ever felt let down by someone you trusted so completely? Have you found yourself so frustrated when someone’s actions have not been what you thought they would? How did you feel? How did you react?

Often there are 2 types of people in that kind of scenario. One responds vocally, rants raves, gets angry, confronts the situation and it comes to a head. The other silently seethes, inwardly processing before, often, those emotions take over and they do something they might later regret.

I have faced both of those and neither is a nice place to be. In the first I was let down by someone who I loved and who I thought would do anything for me. When a tough situation came along, I found that actually I wasn’t their priority and that hurt. And I let it hurt me, for a long time, before repenting and seeking healing. That relationship is healed, spiritually, and I even go so far as to call them a friend, but it’s not the same and never will be.

In another, I was promised a lot in a work context and was let down, those promises apparently based on nothing. I found myself going down the slope to bitterness and brooding, until Jesus got involved! And instead I addressed the situation, angrily it’s true, but with some grace, and it enabled it to be sorted out.

I think Judas was the brooding type. I think his actions were the final straw in his frustration. He snapped and did something he would clearly later regret.

There is I think, a very fine line between love and hate.

I have seen it for myself and been surprised by my own actions. I have seen it in others, in relationships that have fallen apart, where 2 people once loved each other with passion and devotion, only to have that crumble and they instead turn that passion to anger and to destroying each other.

We are in fact all capable of it.

In fact, pretty much all of the disciples let Jesus down that night in one way or another. They all deserted him in his hour of need. Peter turns into some kind of crazy sword wielder and later denies Jesus 3 times. These are people who spent their lives with Jesus, learning straight from him, and still in the moment, their kingdom living ideals went out the window…

We are all capable of it.

Because the simple fact is we are not yet in eternity, not yet fully living in the kingdom, we don’t always act as we should.

 

…o0O0o…

2) A Loving response –

 

So, in the face of this behaviour what does Jesus do here? In the face of Judas betraying him, turning his back on him, reacting in fact out of love?

 

He is the absolute contrast to Judas, as we would expect, if Judas is the example of Satan here then of course Jesus is the opposite. The symbol of love, of hope, of patience, compassion… Just as he is to us, whatever our situation.

Just looking at Judas, let’s just highlight that he was one of Jesus’ followers, right up until this moment he was a disciple. He had given up all to follow Jesus, been with him, seen him do healings, had probably been part of doing some himself. He was not just like a movie villain, evil to the core!

And in fact we have seen this as they have all gathered round the table for the last supper just a few hours earlier, they have shared bread and wine together, even Judas. And Jesus knows what he is going to do, in Matthew 26 we see Jesus and Judas converse, that they both know what is going to happen.

 

And yet it is after this moment that they share the bread and wine, and Jesus says again in Matt 26:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

He knows what is to happen and yet he still shares the bread and wine with them all Judas included, talking about forgiveness. Jesus does not respond as one might expect, he responds from a fully kingdom perspective.

 

…o0O0o…

Now of course John actually paints Judas in a worse light, referring to him in chapter 12 as a thief. 

And suggests that Jesus identifies Judas to another disciple by handing him some bread, rather than to his face, in John 13.

I feel sure that despite knowing what Jesus did about what Judas was going to do he would have loved him as much as anyone else. He may have been filled with sorrow, disappointment even, but I don’t think he stopped loving him.

In fact in the face of Judas’ anger and frustration we see Jesus acting with complete calm and grace.

There is such contrast here, if we can imagine the scene, Jesus and his disciples, having had a wonderful meal together and prayed and shared together, then go to the garden, a place they have gathered many times before, perhaps in quiet contemplation, perhaps in fellowship, chatting with one another, perhaps praying, we don’t know except that they were a group of friends together.

Then comes the starkness of the contrast in vs 3:

‘So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’

The quiet, peaceful, prayerful, friendly atmosphere is shattered in an instant. Did they hear the soldiers approaching? It is likely. Were they a mob shouting or calling out? Were they angry? I imagine the Pharisees must have been feeling some sense of triumph that finally Jesus was going to be arrested. Was there hostility in their actions and words? Of course we don’t know but we know they were carrying weapons, this was not a peaceful deposition, that’s for sure! We cannot underestimate this scene. So often we read things in the bible and it’s not a novel, it doesn’t describe for us every detail, but this is not a nice scene even as it may seem calm and peaceful. Tensions would have been high amongst the soldiers and priests, weapons drawn, at the ready. Which makes Jesus behaviour all the more of a contrast:

he doesn’t respond with anger, retaliation, fear or defence. No he calmly asks who they are looking for.

And again we see his love and compassion as he asks for the others to be left alone, our passage telling us that:

 

This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.

(Except possibly Judas…)

His concern is for his disciples even in this hour of darkness. Even with an angry mob facing him.

 

And above all Jesus strength of love, against the hatred, or anger of Judas and his accusers stands out.

…o0O0o…

 

3) And finally let’s look at redemption. The great contrast between what we deserve and what we get…

Jesus is all about redemption. All about bringing us back from a place of brokenness, of sin, to relationship with God.

So Judas, what happened to him? Was he really the movie villain who got his come uppance, got what he deserved? Well biblical reports differ, and they aren’t exactly pleasant reading either. But we do know that Judas died.

 

 

… (Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out…)

Acts 1:16-19

 

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

Matthew 27:3-7

But I want to focus on this – that according to Matthew, Judas felt remorse and returned the money. He is basically repenting of what he did, he is saying he made a mistake and he is trying to some extent put it right.

Judas repented and declared Jesus innocent and confessed his sin.
Was he really then condemned to a life of hell? Now I think we need to be clear that not everyone goes to heaven, there is a lot of liberal theology around on that, and we need to know that Jesus is the only way to the Father.

And of course we don’t know what happened to Judas, but I think that he was in this moment, feeling complete despair. An absolute lack of hope. He’s thinking he’s committed a terrible sin, an innocent man has been arrested. Not only that but perhaps the only hope to bring about change in their political system, in their nation and he’s the one who got rid of him. He has in the process probably lost all his friends, he might as well have sold them out too. And he finds himself alone with these dark thoughts with no hope, and with no hope, comes despair.

But like everything else in this passage there is another way of looking at it, a contrast, the kingdom view.

For centuries the church has taught that Judas was the ultimate sinner, that not only did he sell out Jesus, God, I mean there’s not much worse that that right? But then he kills himself too… suicide has always been taught as an unforgivable sin. But I don’t think it’s anywhere near as simple as that.

Because, does God, in seeing someone in their darkest hour, their absolute moment of need, suddenly become uncompassionate and turn away? Really? When a person might be the most in need of some love in their entire life? I don’t think that sounds like our God does it?

And really, do we think that’s what happened to Judas? Or to anyone else?

Our God is about redemption, about taking people out of brokenness, of healing, of wholeness with God. Mercy and grace are all about us getting what we don’t deserve. The punishments we do deserve – Jesus has taken them away. The good things we never earned – we get them anyway.

So often we become bogged down with just one view, our own view, our own earthly experience, but Jesus shows us another way to see things, a kingdom view… that is the kingdom contrast.

 

Ending:

 

So, was Judas the villain? Well, I am not sure but I think we can learn a lot from him and I am sure that is why he is there in scripture.

Perhaps we can see a bit of ourselves in Judas? Do we carry that capability to betray or to make the wrong decision?

Or perhaps we can see the bitterness or despair that he carried, in ourselves?

 

Well I think what is demonstrated at the very heart of this passage is all about love. The absolute purity of Jesus’ love contrasted with the incomplete, failing human version. Jesus in his darkest hour, not just fulfilling his calling, one of love, for humanity, going to die for us,

but acting it out in his every action.

And yet there is Judas, one of the chosen ones, friend of Jesus, loved by him, and I am sure Judas loved Jesus too, and yet his passion that once was for the Lord, following him everywhere, now turns to disillusionment, disappointment reigns, and he betrays him.

At the end of the day, this is why we all need Jesus, why we all need salvation. Because we cannot ever come close to this purity, his love. We need redemption, we need to be set free from our mistakes, our wrong doing, and we get it through him, that’s the only way.

The kingdom of God is both now and not yet – we live in the knowledge that Jesus has won the battle over death and as a result we get to live in relationship with God. We live in that new covenant, but we also know that something so much greater is coming, when all earthly pain and suffering will be gone and we get to be in the presence of the living God for eternity.

Let’s pray…

Preach // 9/10/16 Folk Festival Evensong // God in music

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Morris dancers as part of the Folk Festival

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Preach from Lewes Folk Festival Evensong, 9th October, 2016

Based on 2 Chronicles, 5: 4-14 (second reading: Colossians 3:12-17)

I’m afraid I won’t be preaching in the style of a 17th or 18th Century fire and brimstone preacher today, (the cassock is about as far as I’ll go on that one!) but actually the sentiment is the same, that God, our wonderful heavenly Father, Jesus his son, the Holy Spirit within us, should be at the centre of our lives. And today I want to talk about God in our lives, through music. Of course – couldn’t talk about anything else really!

I grew up surrounded with music as my mum was and is, a great piano player. As tiny children we loved hearing ‘the penguin song’, and as my mum played me and my brother would waddle around pretending to be penguins, over and over again until My mum was fed up of playing it!

 

Now, I am married to a music lover and worship leader, and our kids have inherited that love too: between us all we own I think 5 guitars, a bass guitar, mandolin, flute, drum kit, piano and keyboard as well as countless shakers and harmonicas etc. 

We love to play and to sing, and particularly for us, to use music to worship God.

For me there is just something spiritual about music, something more than just the notes we hear or the words being sung.

I love that line from our 2 Chronicles passage:

indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord’

They were as one – if you’ve ever heard a perfect harmony, or a great choir all singing in unison, it sounds just like that – they are as one. And here in our passage it was of course in worship to God.

And BTW just in case you think you can’t sing, (although unlikely this afternoon I am sure) Psalm 98 tells us to:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.

 

It doesn’t say sing perfectly in tune – it just says make a joyful noise – it’s all about intention, about the heart behind it.

You know, historians suggest that we just don’t know the origin of music, but it could be that it grew out of naturally occurring sounds or rhythms. Perhaps early human music echoed those sounds, or used similar repeating patterns or tones.

Of course we just don’t know for sure but as a Christian I believe that God created the world and with that humans, and with that different giftings for us to be closer to him and to glorify him. In Exodus 35 we see a craftsman, Bezalel being filled with the Holy Spirit in order to create beautiful artistic designs for the temple. Why not the same with music?

In fact in Job 38 the Lord is speaking to Job and notes:

When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

I think human music-making is part of the music of creation. It reflects the order, beauty, and diversity of God’s creation. Which would explain quite why it carries so much power. I believe music carries the presence of God within it, it’s just that we don’t always recognise it as that. In our Chronicles passage we heard that during the singing:

that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.

It was like their singing, their music carried the presence of God. It was so powerful they couldn’t continue their work!

Theologian Karl Barth suggested that singing is not an option for the people of God and that it is one of the essential ministries of the church.

He said:

The Christian church sings. It is not a choral society. Its singing is not a concert. But from inner, material necessity it sings. Singing is the highest form of human expression….What we can and must say quite confidently is that the church which does not sing is not the church. And where…it does not really sing but sighs and mumbles spasmodically, shamefacedly and with an ill grace, it can be at best only a troubled community which is not sure of its cause and of whose ministry and witness there can be no great expectation….The praise of God which finds its concrete culmination in the singing of the community is one of the indispensable forms of the ministry of the church.

Now I know not everyone here today will take this view, in fact many of you might not even accept that God exists, let alone be the author of music. But I hope we can agree that there is something extremely powerful in music, perhaps even something beyond the natural world.

I mean have you ever had one of those moments listening to music when you just have to stop, and listen? A piece of music that just touches something in you, you get goose bumps, maybe even shed a tear?

I had one of those a few weeks ago, looking at Facebook and a friend of mine had written a song about being a Child of God and put it on his page. It played automatically as I scrolled through my feed and it just hit me, it literally felt like the music was reaching into my soul. It was beautiful and haunting and it felt anointed, like it was full of God’s presence. I stopped. Tears filled my eyes and I listened to the song 4 times in a row. It was immensely powerful.

Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying:

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

indeed…

 

In our Chronicles passage the singers and musicians were part of the Priestly tribe, singing and making music was part of their calling, part of their God-given purpose. Just as today we might say that worship leaders, those who lead us in music in the church, are there to help us to encounter God, to lead us into the presence of God. Perhaps even into such a glorious presence that we cannot help but stop, like the Priests in our passage, just listen and breathe the atmosphere into our souls.

That is the power of music, as I believe the power of God in music. If you are a musician, or a singer, you have a calling, you have a gift, given to you by God to impact those around you. To help others experience something of God.

And of course the bible teaches us that the only way to the Father is through the son, through Jesus. We can experience something of God through music but if we want to truly know him, we have to know the son.

In our New Testament reading from Colossians, Paul says this at the end:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

Let the word of Christ dwell in you.

Sing in your hearts to the Lord

Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.

Music can help us to experience something of God but by itself, we see just part of the picture, a movement if you like, a verse maybe. Perhaps Jesus is like the Chorus, the point that everything builds up to, that brings a song alive, the part we remember most. The bible tells us that Jesus is the capstone, the person who holds everything together.

I’ve always loved music, but now that I know Jesus, when I sing, particularly in worship, there is so much more. Like another level of depth to a song, taking me both further into my soul and yet also further from myself, closer to my Saviour.

 

As we continue to sing our final hymn shortly, or perhaps as we listen to the music, let’s just think about where God is in the music, for us as individuals. What might we be experiencing through the music of worship? Why not take the opportunity to just think about Where Jesus is for us as we sing?

 

‘I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…’ // Preach 24/07/16

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This is my preach from the 6.30pm at TRINITY on 24th July 2016. It is part of a series on The Apostles Creed, each talk based on a passage of scripture as well as a line from the creed.
As usual this is my notes/script so may not be exactly as I said it!

 

Preach // John 1: 1-18

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

 

So… do we?

I don’t think any of you here know my story or testimony, and I’m not going to share it all this evening, (but more than happy to chat about it if anyone wants to!)

However I spent my life from a baby to the age of about 18 going to church regularly, in several fairly traditional parish churches. I must have said that line ‘I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son’ and others from the Creeds, hundreds if not thousands of times. And yet for over 30 years I didn’t really know what it meant. I didn’t really know what I was saying, I just said it because that’s what we did in church.

After that I was in and out of church for years until my 30s. In fact the reason I stopped going to church eventually was because I couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t understand what it was all about.

>In my mind it was all turmoil, did I believe in God? Or not? Who was Jesus? Did he actually live? Was he really God’s Son?

And finally I decided I didn’t want my kids to go through the same experience and uncertainty and so we stopped going.

Just like that.

For a few years I was in some kind of spiritual blender where I looked at various different faiths, explored meditation and mindfulness and tried to find some answers.

Then our lives changed when we had some work done on our house and a builder who was a committed Christian started to tell us about Jesus. Not just ‘Jesus Christ the Son of God’ whose name or title I had repeated all those years, but a Jesus who he knew, who was with him always, who was his friend, who he couldn’t live without.

This was a Jesus I had never heard of before, but I wanted to know more…

And there is of course a lot more to that story, the fact that I’m here and ordained is part of it! But the reason I wanted to share that is that for me, now, when I say those words: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God’ I mean it. I mean it with all my heart and I mean it because I do know him, and I couldn’t say anything other than I believe in him. It’s not just repeating a name and a title because I don’t just believe – he is my reason for living

 

: Now we are focusing on The Apostles Creed, which is based on doctrine, which in itself is based on scripture.

And so to look at this line today, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…” we are focusing on John 1:1-18 which is a fantastic passage because it declares such amazing truths about who Jesus is.

But I believe it also actually says as much about us as believers as it does about Jesus.

So we’re going to look at who he is but also who we are in him.

Now some of you will have similar stories to mine, some might not. Some will perhaps recognise where I was a few years ago, others may always have known Jesus, but wherever you are at, I hope that in what I share this evening, that all of us might know Jesus a little by more by the time we all leave this place, but also that we might seek to find who we are, in Christ also, to seek how he sees us. Is that ok?

  

So what does John tell us?

 This passage, is really John laying down what he believes, to frame the rest of the gospel. And the opening lines of the chapter here – vs.1-18 are like a prologue to the whole thing. It’s a bit like John’s creed, his declaration of who he believes Jesus to be: He says:

Jesus was there in the beginning

he had a part in creation – all things were created through him,

he gives light to all men,

he gives right to become children of God,

he brings grace,

John even takes us back to Moses and the law, just confirming again Jesus as the fulfilment of the law.

 

Those are some pretty big claims actually, so let’s take a closer look at some of them and what they might mean for us.

 

  • logos – foundation just as today

 

And he really starts by laying down a foundation stone:
‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God’.

 

This is a direct description of Jesus. And I love this about John’s gospel that he is far more poetic, mysterious even, more spiritual than the others, and this language here is really beautiful and creates an amazing picture of who Jesus is throughout this passage.

But even so, why does he use ‘word’ (or ‘logos’ in Greek) ? why doesn’t he just say ‘Jesus’? wouldn’t that be simpler?
Well if we imagine the time he was writing and those who would have read or heard these words, we know that he is appealing largely to two groups of people – the Greeks and the Jews.

So for the Greeks – As you might know the Greeks were very into thinking and reason, philosophical thought. So ‘logos’ was a word for reason – a way of referring to thought. Both in terms of inward thought – so our own ideas and things whizzing around our brain, but also an expression of thought in speech. Speaking thoughts out loud.

So, in referring to Jesus as the word, the ‘logos’ he was appealing to the idea of reason, not just declaring who Jesus is, but putting the idea of him into a framework the Greeks would understand. He’s saying there is a reason for life – and Jesus is it.

But John also appeals to the Jewish readers too. They would have understood that idea of the word ‘logos’ in a different way – as a revelation from God – a word spoken from God. For example in the Old Testament, prophets were God’s mouthpiece, he spoke his words directly to the prophets and they then shared that with the people.

In some scripture God’s word can almost be seen to have a life of its own in this sense –

Psalm 107:20 ‘God sent forth his word and healed them’

or Isaiah 55: 11 ‘… so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’.

So actually John is, as well as being very arty and poetic, is actually being very clever in appealing to different readers using the same word, to help them to understand who Jesus is, in terms they might know.

So for us, as the modern reader, today, in our lives, are these helpful terms? Do they help us to get a better handle on who Jesus is? Can we imagine Jesus as our reason for living? Or can we picture him as someone sent out from God, to do his work?

If you imagine in those lines above that I read – imagine ‘word’ replaced with Jesus it can really help us to understand what is being said here:

God sent forth Jesus and healed them’

‘… Jesus will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent him’.

I think they are quite helpful actually as a foundation, but there is so much more to Jesus than that isn’t there?

Jesus as God – there in the beginning

And John doesn’t stop there, he goes even further than this, he wants to really cement that the word, Jesus, is not just a revelation or expression of God but that he is in fact God himself too. So he highlights:

‘he was there in the beginning, through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made’.

Which is also echoed in v10 – ‘through him the world was made’…)

Wait, so if it weren’t for Jesus, if it weren’t for ‘the word’ there would be no world? That’s enough for people to stand up and listen isn’t it?! And that’s the truth of how fundamental Jesus is to us too, that without him there would be nothing. Without him in our lives, is it all worth nothing?

Again John wants to reach a range of readers so he uses language to reach them. Jewish readers would know their own scripture, for example the Torah, the first 5 books of our Old Testament, was for teaching and all about the law and instruction.

And how does it all start? What are the very first words of the bible in Genesis

Anyone know….!?

 

‘In the beginning…’ the very same words John starts his Gospel with. He is aligning himself, his beliefs and Jesus, with the Jewish faith, placing Jesus as the Messiah, there at the very beginning. Of everything. Not just with God, but he was God.

But also again he’s appealing to the Greek reader who placed such emphasis on thought and reason with the very idea of ‘the beginning’ – what was the beginning? What was there, before there was anything?

Jesus was there ‘ in the beginning’. Just as later we read in Hebrews 13:

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’

Jesus that was there in the beginning, was the same Jesus who came to earth as a baby, the same Jesus who died on the cross, the same Jesus who offers us eternal life now, if we choose it.

So for us, does this bring meaning to us? Personally I believe both show Jesus as a reason for life, but in different ways. So just as then, now we might understand Jesus as the Son of God, the reason for life, the reason we are here – bringing meaning to the universe and the world around us.

But also he continues to bring us the word of God, he is the one who enables us to know God the Father.

 

…o0O0o… 

So John goes on with his fundamental truths… and so far we have really looked at who Jesus is, but now, we get a sense of who he is for us or within us. For example in:

– In v.9 He is the ‘true light that gives light to every man…’

In v 12: ‘he gave the right to become children of God’ – this is for us today

In v14: the word dwelled amongst us

In v.16. through grace we receive blessing 

These are all amazing statements about who Jesus is for us, but I want to focus now on Jesus as the Son of God as we declare in that line:

 

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

So, in verse 12-13 John says:

‘he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus gives us, all of us, the right to become a child of God. We can call God our Father, we can call him our Dad. Strange though that might seem, Jesus’ came to restore each of us to a relationship with God, the kind of relationship that a truly loving Father has with his children. That is what is on offer for each of us!

And I wonder, can any of say that that is how we see God? That we truly believe that we have the kind of relationship with him where we see him as a truly loving Father?

It’s actually really hard to get our head around, especially if you may not have had a loving Father in life.

 

…o0O0o…

 

But it’s actually much more than that even – In the Jewish and Greek culture, generational lines and the importance of Father-Son relationships were hugely important. For example:

In Hebrew culture, a son or child was deemed to be so, not just by birth but by who the father chose or named as his son, so sometimes men would take others into their family and deemed them to be sons (sadly rarely happened with women!). Doing so not only meant that others then saw the new son’s status as the same as the Father but that they were representatives of the Father, they had his rights, could make decisions in his name. So a slave could (and did in some cases) be taken into a family and given the same rights as the head of the household.

 

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In a way that’s what Jesus does for us – offers us adoption into his family. And how could he offer this? Because he was the son himself – he could share his inheritance with us…

For those of the day, unlike other religions of faith cultures, Jesus offered ‘membership’ if you like, to anyone. This was a world where status mattered hugely, from governors, army generals and Rabbis who carried importance, weight and power, to slaves who often had no rights of their own and no prospect of getting any.

 

Jesus and what would become Christianity, was something so different to anything seen before. It was a faith for everyone, irrespective of intelligence, age, gender, race or religious background.

They could all receive from Jesus.
We can all receive from Jesus.

And today there are still vast chasms between the rich and poor, between those with status and those without, sometimes just as arbitrary but nothing can keep us from Jesus – well nothing except ourselves.

Actually sometimes we put those barriers there ourselves, we question ourselves, our identity – many of us suffer with a real lack of self worth, but God’s word tells us that as Christians, as believers in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we are nothing less than the personally valued, dearly loved children of God, irrespective of how others may see us or even of how we see ourselves.

 

Romans 8:14-21 says this:

 

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

>>We get to be children of God, we get to share in his glory. You are special, every one of you. EVERY one of you. Can we believe that? <<

  

…o0O0o…

 

But it’s not just a theory either, not just something we choose to believe –

Jesus came here…

 

Verse 14 – I’m going to read it from the Message Version – have come across that? (explain)

Says this:

The Word became flesh and blood,

    and moved into the neighborhood.

We saw the glory with our own eyes,

    the one-of-a-kind glory,

    like Father, like Son,

Generous inside and out,

    true from start to finish

 

I love that – he moved into the neighbourhood. What a great way of describing it – because we can hear that Jesus was: the incarnation, he was born of Mary – but what did it mean?

So just imagine, Jesus moved into your neighbourhood – imagine Jesus was here in Lewes. He might have grown up on your street, he might have been at events you were at – a wedding maybe or a funeral, or you might have heard him speak at the Speakers festival this weekend!

 

Have you ever seen someone famous in real life? A celebrity? I’m sure there must be a few around Lewes! It’s like you see them on TV or maybe or read about them, you’ve seen plenty of photos of them, and then you bump into them in the street, or see them at an event. Undoubtedly they look a little bit different, but more than that, you will see them in the flesh, 3D if you like, you get to see them in all their glory – the fullness of who they are.

It’s the same with Jesus. This is John’s story – he saw Jesus, he knew Jesus, this is his testimony that he saw him.

Jesus (God) was actually here on earth, he dwelled among people like you and I, he revealed himself, as God, the Son of God, he was a revelation of God here amongst us.

 

Jesus is God but he also knows what it is to be human, to feel emotion, to feel pain – I know some can’t get around the theology of what Jesus could feel, but do you think as a child he never fell over, scraped his knee or stubbed his toe? Did he never get a cold? If he was fully human as well as fully God then he experienced these things just as we do. And we know, he certainly experienced suffering.

 

And he is still with us. Yes we don’t get to bump into him down at Tesco, but he’s here, in our hearts, longing for us to know him more.

 

…o0O0o…

 

 

And in fact the last few verses 16-18 just reiterate that too, and again I’m going to read from the Message:

 

 

We all live off his generous bounty,

        gift after gift after gift.

    We got the basics from Moses,

        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,

    This endless knowing and understanding—

        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.

    No one has ever seen God,

        not so much as a glimpse.

    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,

        who exists at the very heart of the Father,

        has made him plain as day.

 

 

Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of the Jewish faith.

And that word Messiah, by the way, is translated in the Greek as Kristos – Christ, It literally means ‘anointed one’ and it was often used as a title, for someone who was thought to be anointed – maybe a Priest or Prophet, even a King. So whist we know the word as solely referring to Jesus, it was something prior to his time on earth.

John is reiterating here again the history, going back to Moses – reminding the Jews of the heritage of their faith, Moses a fundamental figure for the Jews, here being superseded it seems by Jesus – he’s taking them forward, to the next level, Moses didn’t see God but we get to – we get to see him in Jesus. As do we today.

We get to receive this generous bounty – through grace – none of us deserve it but we get it anyway. We get to know Jesus. Jesus Christ the Son of God. The one who was there at the very beginning, will be at the very end and is here right now.

 

…o0O0o…

 

Ending…

 

So… When we say that line

 

“I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…”

 

Let’s ask ourselves – do we?

Because when we say this line (and the Creed as a whole) we are not just declaring what we believe in, but we are declaring who we are.

If Jesus lives within us, then we are also declaring our own identity.

 

So do we believe that Jesus is God, that he was there at the very beginning?

Do we believe that he is our very foundation? Our reason for living?

Do we we truly accept that we are Children of God? that we are special?

Can we say that we have received God’s grace? Undeserved and unearned, but there for each of us?

 

Those are the questions I want to leave you with, I’d love you to ponder on them this week, to think about your reason for living and who you are in Jesus.

…o0O0o…

 

Prayer and Ministry….

 

 

Being different and being relevant…

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I’ve been thinking recently about how hard it is to balance trying to be relevant as Christians in society, with being Godly. By which I mean for example, I find it helpful to use every day life examples when I’m preaching or talking about God. I might refer to a current song or TV show, a piece in the news maybe, or something I’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter.

But at the same time that requires us to be up to date and know what is going on in the world, the things that people are into, the music that is popular and the TV shows people are watching. Which isn’t in itself a problem, until we come up against something that is hugely popular but might go against our Christian principles. Now listen I’m not going all fundamental here, I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to Radio 1 or watch Harry Potter (and I’m not talking about hard core stuff which most people would be offended by anyway) but I’m just thinking about where the balance is. 

Here’s the challenge – ask yourself, how much TV do you watch, say 10 hours a week? and then ask yourself how much of that is spent watching anything Christian? Or how much time do you spend reading books and then compare that with how much time is spent in God’s word? How much do you listen to the radio, versus listening to preaching podcasts or Worship music? How many posts do you put on Facebook each week and how many of those reference your faith or something God has done in your life?

…o0O0o…

As Christians we often quote the line that we should ‘be in the world but not of the world’ and say it’s from scripture. Actually it isn’t, the theme is biblical but the line itself is not. Probably it’s one of those things that someone has paraphrased from scripture and then it has been repeated so many times that people believe it is in the bible.

The nearest we can get to it is the following:

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.       John 15:19


And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.       
Romans 12:2

 

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.     1 John 2:15

 

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.        John 17:19

 

All of which point to the fact that we are called to be different, but not that we need to be completely removed from contemporary culture.

I think the most helpful line here is from Romans 12 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. And that is the challenge – how are we allowing our minds to be renewed? If actually the majority of the time we are simply filling our minds with the X Factor, Kanye West or Fifty Shades of Grey that sounds like our minds are more likely to be transformed and renewed into the culture of this world, not of the Kingdom of God.

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So back to my original question, how can we balance being relevant with being Godly? Well, I don’t have a magic formula I’m afraid. But the key has to be in seeking God and being led by him. My husband and I watch a lot of what we call ‘murder based entertainment’ – i.e. crime drama. I like the challenge of it, the suspense, the trying to suss out who did what. But just recently I realised that is pretty much all we watch on TV! So, we have been choosing to fill our minds with stories of GBH, murder and deception and the scenes that go with it. And let’s face it, TV dramas these days don’t hold back on the gore and realism do they? And I have to be honest I’ve felt challenged on that. Do I want to fill my mind continually with this kind of stuff? I’m asking myself how is this renewing my mind? So instead I’m trying to balance what I put in to my head with a range of things, We’ve switched to watching something less murder themed, I am trying to listen to more sermon podcasts and choosing to watch less TV in general actually.

I think it’s good to challenge ourselves on these things regularly, that is not to say ‘that programme/book/song is not Christian’ but more to balance it out. We do need to know what is going on in our world, we need to be able to relate to people who are not Christians and we can’t do that by hiding ourselves away, but let’s really think about how we are feeding ourselves and how our minds are being renewed and transformed.

I would love to know peoples thoughts on this. Do you think we can we find the right balance? What about your own popular culture intake – do you think you have the right balance? What might God be saying to you in this?

 

A Movement of Love

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You know what I think our society needs? A movement of love.

Over the last year or so the thing I have felt God talking to me about the most is, all about loving each other, loving people. Our culture now seems to be largely formed upon what is best for ‘the self’ and yet God’s word tells us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We seem to be doing ok with the loving ourselves bit, but what about our neighbour?

Individualism is the thing that rules us. We want what we want, and we want it now, often at the expense of others. And well, maybe you could say that’s a good thing, we won’t be lorded over by dictators or tyrants. We have freedom to act and live as we want, there is greater safety and support for the marginalised, we might say we are free to become who we were always meant to be.

But…

I feel that the more we do that the more we are isolating ourselves from each other. We have no responsibility for any other, no concern for our community or clan, no regard for our country, and yet we can feel free to tear down and criticise those who do.

Years ago people generally lived within an area, extended family were nearby, locals knew each other and looked out for each other. Now, how many of us even know who our neighbours are? I live in a tiny little rural village and here, if you are connected in, maybe through the school then you do live a bit like it once was. You walk to school and see people in the village, you get to know local characters, you chat to parents at the school gate, you have probably met the local Vicar, even if you are not a church goer. When I was injured people rallied to cook for us. When a local man dies, people gather. There is something here about respect for each other.

And yet, I know for many, they don’t know their neighbour, they don’t feel connected to their community, they don’t know what is going on locally. They just happen to live there, going in and out daily.

…o0O0o…

I wrote a while back about us living in bubbles and that’s what has happened, we live in our own individual bubbles, often unaware of the wider world, and when we do take an interest it is largely only because it might affect us.

and we love this right? we love that we get to do what we want and when we want to don’t we?

But…

There are thousands of people living and struggling every day with loneliness. Whether the elderly, isolated and perhaps less capable, stuck at home, no friends to talk to. There are thousands living daily with depression and mental illness, isolated and suffering, often alone. There are refugees in corners of the world who have lost everything and struggle daily just to live, just to feed their children. What happens to them? well now we have organisations and groups and governments to handle them right? We just palm off any sense of responsibility, or dare I say compassion, on to someone else, onto something else.

We need a movement of love.

…o0O0o…

These are our fellow human beings. In our communities, in our towns, in our villages, in our world. Because of course community means something else these days – we talk of the global community, the online community, and we need that, people need that, the lonely, isolated and suffering need that.

But how can it be that an elderly man can live in squalor and ask for help and after months is still waiting for it? How can it be that a sick woman, once with a life filled with friends and fun, is alone and isolated when she needs love the most? How can it be that a couple struggling, but desperately trying, to find work are treated as pariahs and penalised rather than supported? How can it be that troubled young people are looked upon with disdain and disrespect when they just need someone to love them.

We need a movement of love.

Of course we need organisations and bodies and support groups but above all:

we. just. need. to. love. people.

…o0O0o…

My Nan was in care home for about 5 years before she died. For the last year of her life I visited her once a week for about an hour. 1 hour a week – not much is it? Sometimes it was a chore, sometimes (often) she was very grumpy but I know she loved me visiting, just being there. In an average week she had 2 visitors – that’s 2 hours a week of just being with other people. How would you find that?

When I was out with my back injury, how many people came to see me? in 3 months – a handful.

This week I made a promise to God that if I passed any homeless people on the way to uni I would stop. I bought coffee and food for two men. And I just stopped to say Hi, ask them their names and bless them. One of them, Simon, was feeling unwell and so I offered to pray for him. When I left he gave me a smile that was full of love. Who is this man? why is he here on the street, begging, in freezing temperatures? He was once a baby, a child, how did he end up here? My heart breaks…

…o0O0o…

For goodness sake, where is our sense of community? Is it just a word we use for groups and programmes and technology? We need a movement of love that brings love and compassion back to the heart of our communities…

Ask yourself, do you know who your neighbour is? Do you know what their life is like? are there people you know who are sick and just need some human company? Do you have a relative in a care home? how often do you visit them? Do you know someone who has just had a new baby? Why not take them a meal, do some housework for them? Or just stop and talk to people. The homeless guy on the street? buy him a cuppa and ask him his name, he has a story. Make time to meet up with people for a chat, it’s so easy to overlook, we are all so busy but so vital that we do. 

It’s Valentines day, so how about we start a movement of love?

 

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