30.7.17 – Writing Fresh Parables Of The Kingdom Of Heaven – Alan Judge

Bible Reading: Mathew 13: 31-33; 44- 52

Have you thought much about what the Heaven will be like.
I remember discussing this as a 17 year old
on a Scripture Union camp tramping in the Rees Valley.
What will heaven be like?
One person who loved the mountains suggested
it would be like the vista around us,
we were under the shadow of Mount Clarke
and Mt Aspiring kept peaking us.
It will be like this, he said,
but the mountains will be 7 times higher.
I was less than enthusiastic with the image,
mostly because we were back from Climbing Mt Clarke
a mountain peak of 2,285m,
and my feet were covered in blisters and I limped dramatically.
However ever since I have been fascinated
by the way different people describe Heaven.
Some imagine the worship
Others relationships between people and with Jesus
A few are fascinated by images of ornate cathedrals
encrusted with precious metals and stones.
In today’s reading from Matthew,
Jesus is exploring what the Kingdom of Heaven is like
in the present.
One of the verses of Matthew 13 left out in our reading says;
Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
So in Matthew 13 Jesus paints 7 pictures of what the kingdom of heaven is like
 It is a farmer scattering seed
 It is a mustard seed growing into a huge enormous tree
 It is yeast added to the flour
 It is finding hidden treasure
 It is a trader discovering a pearl of great price
 It is fishing and catching good and not so good fish
 It is a homeowner bringing old and new treasures from their store room
Parables is quite a different way of communicating
than we are used to.

In our society we go to seminars
and the teacher explains things to you,
often with numbered points and action plans.
Or we debate things (Presbyterians love debating things)
and so we marshal augments for and against
different points of view
and then take votes.
But Jesus doesn’t communicate in either of those ways.
Instead he paints pictures and tells stories,
and invites everyone to understand these stories and pictures
in ways that are meaningful to them.
In today’s reading we have 6 mini parables
and to each one Jesus adds an intro
‘the kingdom of heaven is like’.
If it was a presentation in our society,
each would illustrate a point.
You would make the point,
give an illustration
and then make the point again.
In contrast Jesus lays it out there (a picture of life)
And then quickly overlays it with another
Which says something slightly different.
After the 5th mini parable Jesus asks the disciples
‘Have you understood these things?’
And what do they say
‘Yes’
And ever since western Christians have responded
You got to be joking !
If the question is what is the kingdom of heaven like?
How do these parables help us understand?
I have come to see that Jesus is not answering a question
He is painting a picture through these parables
Each of the mini parables has a different setting,
and to some extent speaks to different types of people.
Let me illustrate in this way.
The first one about the mustard seed makes sense to gardeners.
Jesus recognises that gardeners understand the relationship
between seeds and the bushes that grow from them.
Non gardeners seems to understand the relationship
between seeds and weeds much more.
But the principle is that seeds germinate and plants grow.
The mustard tree grows from a small seed
And takes its time to grow.
The principle of growth is an intrinsic principle
of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus final words in Mathews gospel is given to 11 people.
After 33 years of living on earth – only 11 people.
Today the church of Jesus is strong in numbers and in faith.
It is based on this principle of seeds growing,
that we sow seeds of faith in word and action
in our families and networks,
praying God would enable those seeds to grow.
This is something that makes a lot of sends to gardeners.
But some of you are saying,
I’m not to keen on the garden, baking is my thing.
Good news – Jesus has a parable for you.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took
and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour
until it worked all through the dough.’
Finish – that is all he says!
But the bakers among us know how to finish the parable.
What happens when you add yeast to the flour
and work in through the dough? ……………….
Bread happens?
This is a different picture of the kingdom of heaven.
It recognises that it is possible for something
to get so into you, so thoroughly worked through you,
that you become a transformed person.
You change from flour into bread, muffins and cakes
Bakers know about this – people of faith know about this
The yeast of God’s grace
is first mixed into your life
and then through pressures and rough experiences
pounded into your life,
so that you become bread of life for the world.
When I brought my parents from Christchurch after the earthquake
in their mid 80’s
The people of St David’s struggled to understand
how they could cope so well
with huge and challenging changes.
I was a little surprised myself – they were so resilient
The yeast in the flour is probably the best explanation.
They had significant experiences of the yeast of God’s grace
Pounded into their lives by huge challenges
In my Mum’s case
 First grandmother dying when she was 20
 Second grandmother dying when she was 21
 Mother dying when she was 22
 Father dying when she was 25
 Two children who were intellectually disabled
The yeast of God’s grace pounded into her life through adversity.
That is the recipe by which God transforms our lives
The gift of God’s grace and the gift of suffering
Bakers understand this reality
The next two mini parables are like twins
Both relate to finding something of value and concealing it.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.
When a man found it, he hid it again,
and then in his joy went and sold all he had
and bought that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like
a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When he found one of great value,
he went away and sold everything he had
and bought it.
These twin parables are intriguing to me.
My hunch is Jesus is addressing these
to people who have been in business.
The context of the first is not so clear,
but the second is of a merchant
who is in the business to trading in fine pearls.
But he does not own the pearls traded.
Yet one day he finds a pearl of extraordinary value
which he wants to buy himself.
So he sells everything to buy the pearl.
Aside: let’s step aside to a moment for this parable.
Because it raises a question of business place ethics.
How I read it is
 The trader discovers the pearl has extraordinary value
 Conceals its true value from the current owner
 Raises the capital to purchase it
 Buys it from the current owner below its true value.
I assume he would then take it to the bank
and use it to borrow for further business activity.
For some this is the cut throat world of business
and the activities I’ve described have little of ethical concern;
But for other this is not the way honest people trade
My grandad was a trader
– I assume he was more ethical than this pearl trader.
When Jesus told this parable,
he gained the attention of a number of people in the crowd
– particularly business people
because he was describing the ethical context
in which trade takes place.
So what do you make of this???
Possibly Jesus is reminding us
that living kingdom values is done in the real world
of our communities.
To live in faith in Christ does not mean to abandon the world.
 In the early church Christians owned slaves, some practiced bigamy, they fought wars – there was an ethical context in which they lived
 Today we live in a different context also riddled with ethical questions:
o we buy petrol when its production is harmful to the climate,
o we consume food produced by people in slavery or similar conditions,
o we consume more than our fair share of the worlds resources
So this parable touches a raw nerve –
how do we function as ethical people
living by principles of justice
in an environment that is riddled
with unresolved ethical questions.
The twin parables leaves the question sitting there for people,
It is a question every generation of Christians
needs to both live and wrestle with.
However in the twin parables,
there is a sense of commendation
for people prepared to sacrifice money and possessions
for a great treasure.
This is quite a theme in Jesus teaching.
The rich young ruler went away sad after talking with Jesus,
because he knew his money and possessions
were more valuable to him
than following Christ Jesus.
There are some fine examples in Christian history
of people who have given up everything to follow Christ
The Russian author Tolstoy a classic example.
These twin mini parables raise the uncomfortable issue of our incapacity to sacrifice security for the kingdom of heaven.
******
There are two more mini parables
 The sorting of fish into good and bad, and
 The homeowner bringing old and new treasurers from the garage.
The sorting of the fish, reads like this:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven
is like a net that was let down into the lake
and caught all kinds of fish.
When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.
Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets,
but threw the bad away.
This is how it will be at the end of the age.
Wisdom and spiritual discernment is a key theme here.
So there is a catch of fish, and some of those fish are not good to eat.
The fishers need to sort the catch,
and keep the fish they prefer.
The rest go back into the water.
There is an age old debate in terms of
who decides who belongs to the church.
Some leaders say you have to be of a certain character
to belong to our church;
others say
everyone is welcome because God loves everyone.
A great church leader Augustine argued
that the New Testament leaves the dividing
between sheep and goats, wheat and weeds
to God at the harvest;
He taught that they church should accept everyone,
leave the discernment to God.
In contrast the churches of the reformation
were strong on church leadership disciplining its members
and also excommunicating those who were unwilling
to accept their discipline.
Most churches these days are somewhere in between.
I wonder what you think best?
The final mini parable is addressed to ‘the householder’
Therefore every teacher of the law
who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven
is like the owner of a house
who brings out of his storeroom
new treasures as well as old.’
So a good friend comes to visit
and over lunch tells you about a project
they are working on.
You pop out to the garage and grab some tools and a ladder.
“Would these be helpful – keep them for a few weeks if they are”.
A common enough conversation.
In the parable Jesus distinguishes between old treasures and new.
The context is our lives of faith.
Jesus says as we move on and grow in faith
we need to share some treasures.
Some will be old and precious and valued
Some will be new, fresh, innovative
The general principle Jesus offers us
is that each Christian needs both
The owner of a house – brings out of their storeroom
new treasures, as well as old
Some people naturally cling to the old
Others run enthusiastically with the new
Jesus says do both
We notice this in the songs we sing.
We want to sing the songs we know and are familiar with
But learning new worship songs offers freshness
In our mission we also need to combine
treasures old and treasures new.
Not just doing what we’ve always done,
adding something quite innovative
In our leadership we need the voices of experience
and the sharp minds and challenging questions
of our ‘new treasures’.
And in our own devotional lives – we get stale and repetitive
with the same patterns and content,
yet something familiar is also of great value.
****
What a fascinating set of parables we have been thinking on today
So different and teaching us so much
I hope there has been something here for each one of you
Keep thinking about,
what the kingdom of heaven is like
 It is a mustard seed growing into a huge enormous tree
 It is yeast added to the flour making bread
 It is finding hidden treasure, and selling everything to buy the land
 It is a trader discovering a pearl of great price and selling everything to buy it
 It is fishing and catching good and not so good fish and
 It is a homeowner bringing old and new treasures from the storehouse
Each of these parables are old treasures for us from the scriptures.
But you may have some new treasures,
lurking in the recesses of your mind.
Something that is an experience
that has become a parable for you.
An example of how the kingdom of heaven works
in your life.
Perhaps this afternoon you might write a new parable
– a fresh treasure from your storehouse
and offer it to those producing the church newsletter.
Perhaps begin ‘and the kingdom of heaven is like this ……..”
As we’ve seen Jesus parables are so different from each other
and often raise more issues than answer them.
Some are simple like the mustard seed
others pretty complex like the ethical questions
for the trader when trying to buy the pearl.
I’m just inviting you to let your thoughts run wild
and see what God is saying through your attempt
to bring a new treasure from your storehouse
Perhaps you might like to you a period of silence now
to think some more about a new parable
or to pray through one of the parables
we have talked about this morning.
We will take a minute of silence and then I will pray.
{stillness)
Prayer
Now let’s sing As the deer pants for the water
which is another parable of grace
Hymn As the deer pants for the water

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23.7.17 – Wandering Kiwis In Search Of Seeds – Rachel Judge

Jesus, Bread of Life,
Be our staple diet we pray, as we feast on your word,
and gaze on your goodness.
May our attention now be on your message to us this day, nourishing us for the tasks you have for us in this coming week.
May your Holy Spirit move amongst us now so that my words be your words and our thoughts your thoughts, we pray in the name of our Risen Saviour,
Amen.

Read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

I’m guessing that some of us have been lucky enough to see a kiwi in its natural habitat. My only two experiences are a long time ago, on two different times on Stewart Island, one with a school camp and another as part of a team leading a children’s beach mission in the summer. In both cases we spotted a couple of unsuspecting kiwi in the evening, at twilight, as they were emerging from the bush, unimpressed to find an eager audience. Sourcing food, not impressing us was the main agenda and we were hardly likely to go disturbing our new friends by interfering with their dinner so just surmised that worms, berries, leaves and seeds may have made up their menu that night.

Seeds sustain not only kiwis but a majority of our native and exotic birds and creatures. I’m quite partial myself to a handful of sesame, pumpkin or flax seeds – as I’m a kiwi of sorts.

I’ve given this message then, the title of ‘wandering kiwis in search of seeds’.

Jesus begins his busy day of ministry and confrontation with the Pharisees as described in Matthew chapters 12 & 13 strolling with his disciples through a field of grain. Later on that day, from a boat, Jesus told the crowd who had gathered on the beach, our story for today, about the harvest and its meaning. In between Jesus heals those who are coming to him in trust to be healed, confronts the Pharisees about their hypocrisy and slander, and spoke of obedience to him as being thicker than blood when it comes to relating to Jesus as Lord and Master.

Now we join the crowds on the beach, craning our ears to hear from Jesus directions for searching out the seeds, discovering the deeper meaning of Jesus’ story of the sower and the seed.

This sower scattered the seed generously. The seeds landed up everywhere – on the road, where it was eaten by birds, in the gravel where it sprouted quickly but remained rootless so withered quickly in the sun, some fell among weeds so became strangled as it grew, but some seeds fell on productive ground and produced a harvest beyond the sower’s wildest dreams.

Likewise Jesus’ sowing of the seeds of the Kingdom is an act of rampant generosity. His is not a stringent regime, like that of the Pharisees, that denies hungry people their breakfast, sick people their healing or possessed people their deliverance.

We too want to be firm believers in Jesus Christ who share their goodies. D.T Niles, a renowned 20th century Sri Lankan Christian who was passionate evangelist and a pioneer of the ecumenical movement is famous for his ‘quote “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That’s what we’re learning to do in our own lives, to make the most of the opportunities that God gives us every day to ‘gossip the gospel’. I consider it a good day when I’ve made the most of those opportunities but a poorer day when I have to confess to God at the end of it that I’ve wasted some of those God moments in conversations with others.

Indeed, when we look at the big picture, the sowing of the seeds of the Kingdom of heaven has been remarkably productive! From a small group of faithful followers, serving in submission to Jesus Christ and in the power of God’s Spirit, has come a global Christian population of 2.2 billion, or 31% of the world’s people. In some countries, such as Cuba, the growth of the church runs far ahead of the capacity of Bible mission agencies like Bible Societies to keep up with the demand for Bibles. (From Bible Society sermon notes for Bible Sunday)

In Aotearoa New Zealand we are not currently seeing that sort of growth. Not a whole lot of kiwis scurrying round, sourcing seeds of the Kingdom of God.  But there is some encouragement. The Bible Society here in NZ commissioned some research this year from which they discovered that 17% percent of kiwis aged 13 or over and 30% of all 15 to 18 year olds attend church monthly or more often. We have one or two of them here from time to time.  Fourteen percent of all kiwis aged 13 or over read the Bible at least monthly, most of those weekly or daily. It is easy to focus on decline and miss the miracles of grace that God is working in kiwi hearts.

Nevertheless the task of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to 21st Century Aotearoa New Zealand seems a hard ask. What does God teach us from the parable of the sower?

Well, in those hard places, on the stony ground where there seems most resistance we can pray for God to soften hearts. We can ‘water the soil’ by persevering in our friendships with and prayers for those who seem so resistant to the good news of Jesus, instead of giving up on them.

Moving on to the image of thorns that jump out and prick us as we endeavour to be fruitful as we walk the road of Christ- like discipleship, we can become aware that distractions of many kinds are entangling us and so minimising our fruitfulness in  God’s kingdom.  How can we disentangle ourselves, from attractions and distractions of the world so that we can effectively reach those we know who, for whatever reason, have left the church and given up on faith in Jesus?

One of the key learnings I gained from my study leave is the importance of facilitating people’s re-engagement with Christian faith and worship. Think about it, how many people do you know who used to be faithful disciples but who have fallen by the wayside, finding themselves in places where it is difficult to respond to the good news of Jesus? They may well be waiting, whether they know it or not, for someone like you or me who has been transformed from the inside out by the Living God, to deviate from the path and reach out to pick them up and return them to fruitful growing.

And finally, the healthy ground, where seeds of faith can germinate and grow into tall trees, into abundant lives of service and faithful discipleship. We can facilitate this by praying for those who are fruit bearers among us and encouraging them in their mission to grow God’s kingdom. Then, in God’s time growth in faith will flourish, people we never imagined will come to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and in turn help others to flourish in their God-given identity as daughters and sons of the Living God.

So be it, Lord.

Let’s pray,
God of Abundance,
We delight to worship you, amazing God, as the giver of life in all its fullness,
 and of boundless hope.
Help us, we pray, this week, to look out for opportunities to grow in you,
and to be aware of places and situations that inhibit growth.
We want to live for you and make a life-giving difference in the lives of the kiwis and people of all lands whom we meet. Help us in this critical mission and strengthen us in our weakness we pray in the Name of Christ,
Amen.

Both services – same sermon

This year Rachel and Peter have been sharing the preaching with both preaching in both services, term-about. It used to be necessary to publish two sermons each week since there were two different sermons, but that is no longer the case.

The sermons therefore are found at https://mpcsermons.wordpress.com/

This site still contains the sermons that have been preached in the Traditional service in the past and even the sermons preached in both sermons up until 9 October 2016.

May God bless you.

9.10.16 – What Is The Gospel? – Peter Cheyne

This sermon refers to a diagram. You can find a pdf copy of that diagram here.

What is the gospel? A wee while ago I got an email that said, “Promote the core message of our gospel”. What do you think it said was the core message of the gospel? Loving others.

No one would doubt that loving others is a big part of Christianity. Clearly Jesus taught us to love one another, love our neighbours, love our enemies… but is that the core message of the gospel?

The word “gospel” occurs 130 time in the New Testament, in virtually every book. Many other times the writers refer to the gospel using other words so, in total the gospel occurs hundreds of times in the New Testament. It is absolutely central. It was the focus of the thinking of the early Christians. You could say that the whole of the New Testament – indeed the whole of the Bible – is about the gospel. Anything that is that central to the New Testament should also be absolutely central for every Christian.  But what is the gospel? Is it about loving others?

The Greek word meaning “gospel” occurs in two different forms: euangelion, the noun, “the gospel” and euangelizo, the verb, “I gospel, I speak the gospel”. The prefix “eu” means “good” as in euphemism (good speaking) or eulogy (good words) or euphonium (nice sound). Angelion means “news” or “message”. It is the word from which we get “angel”, a messenger. Combine them and you have “good news”. And you can readily see that this is where we get the word evangelism.

The word “gospel” comes from the old English gōdspel: gōd meaning “good” and “spel” meaning “news” or “story”. So, the English and the Greek are exactly equivalent. They both mean “good news”.

The New Testament is always talking about this good news. But what is it?

We sometimes think of the gospel as being crucial at the beginning of our Christian life – we come to believe the good news of the gospel – and crucial at the end of our lives, because we hope to go to heaven. But actually the gospel is good news now. The gospel makes all the difference now.

This term we are going to focus on the gospel. I think we will address these questions:

  1. What is the gospel? (starting today)
  2. The power of the gospel. How can the gospel change our everyday lives?
  3. Living a life worthy of the gospel? How can we live as people for whom the gospel is central?
  4. Sharing the gospel. If this really is good news, how can we tell others about it?

So, what is the gospel? Would it surprise you if I said that loving others is not the gospel?

There are many places we could look but let’s start in 1 Corinthians 15. READ 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.

If our question is “What is the gospel?”, how handy that Paul says “I want to remind you of the gospel”.

But before he defines it, he says some other things about it. Firstly, the gospel was the message he had preached to them. He could have come to Corinth with any number of messages – self-improvement messages, moral messages – but he didn’t. His focus was the gospel. This message was the one message they needed to hear. This message was the one that was of crucial importance.

Secondly, they received it. They heard this message and it changed their lives. They believed it. They accepted that it was true and they saw that it was relevant to them. They wanted it.

Thirdly, they took their stand on it. The gospel became the foundation of their whole life. The gospel influences how they lived; every decision they made; how they viewed the future; how they viewed the present; everything. And they would not be shifted from it. This is where they stood.

Fourthly, Paul mentioned one of the results of the gospel: “By this gospel you are saved”. We will come back to that but, whatever the gospel is, it is profoundly powerful. The gospel saves.

Then there is a very interesting comment: the gospel will save you “if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you”. This is one indication that the gospel is not simply about trusting Jesus at the beginning of our Christian life and going to heaven at the end of it. Our salvation depends on never letting go of the gospel. We are to be gospel people every day. “Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” Paul did not doubt that they had believed the gospel, and received the gospel, and taken their stand on the gospel but all that could be in vain if they did not hold firmly to the gospel daily. Are we? How can we?

There are just a couple more comments before Paul explains what the gospel is. He had passed on what he had received. Paul didn’t make up the gospel. It was given to him. The gospel is a message that comes from God. Paul had his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus. He then spent a long time before God – listening, reading, studying. What he received was exactly what he passed on. The gospel is not something that can be changed and amended and turned into perhaps something more palatable for people. No, the gospel message must remain the gospel message as God has defined it.

Then Paul describes it as being of first importance. There is no other message more important than this one.

Eventually, he is explicit about what the gospel is. He listed four things but they are really only two things

  1. That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures
  2. That He was buried
  3. That he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures
  4. That he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters

It is really only two things because numbers 2 and 4 are really just the proof of numbers 1 and 3. The fact that He was buried verified His death. The fact that He was seen by 500 people verified His resurrection.

According to this passage, that is the gospel: that Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day.

I have tried to put this into a diagram.

gospel-diagram

You can see the section that is labelled “the gospel”, as defined by 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. In that box we have who, did what, and why. The who is Jesus Christ. As Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” The gospel centres on Jesus. He is the Saviour.

Jesus did what? He did lots of things and they are all important. His teaching and example are important but the gospel is that Jesus died and rose again. We will come back to that.

Why did Jesus die? For our sins. It is not popular but the problem is our sinfulness. Sin alienates us from God. Sin messes up the world. We want to do things our way. We want to ignore God. We want comfort and enjoyment. Submission to God is costly. We don’t want that.

On the bottom left we have the necessity of the gospel – our sin. Above that we have the motivation for the gospel: God’s love for us and His mercy. He could have left us to our own devices but He loves us too much for that and launched a rescue mission which involved the Jesus coming into the world as a human.

On the right we have the response to the gospel – trusting in Jesus and repenting – turn from our sinful ways so as to live God’s way. Baptism is the sign of our faith and repentance – our dying to our old life and being raised to new life.

But there is a question mark in the “Faith?” box. There is a crucial decision to be made and two very different outcomes. If we do not put our trust in Jesus, we will receive the judgement our sins deserve.

In the vertical column we have the results of the gospel. We are saved – forgiven, declared righteous, becoming children of God. We receive the Holy Spirit. We begin a process of Holy Spirit transformation so that we become more like Jesus. Empowered by the Spirit we live a life worthy of the gospel. And, ultimately, we will be glorified, entering the very presence of God for all eternity.

So, we have the necessity of the gospel, the motivation for the gospel, the response to the gospel and the results of the gospel, but the gospel itself is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.

So much for 1 Corinthians 15 but do other passages describe the gospel in the same way? Listen to some and see if they fit with this diagram. If they don’t, yell out because I am misleading you.

John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Admittedly, at this early stage of His ministry Jesus was not talking about His death and resurrection but you can see the same basic outline of the gospel: God’s love, the gift of Jesus, the crucial decision of faith and the two possible outcomes – perishing or eternal life.

Colossians 1:21-23

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

2 Timothy 1:8-11

8 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 9

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

If you look at Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, it is about Jesus’ death and resurrection. When the crowd believed the truth of what Peter was saying and asked what they should do, Peter said, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some passages emphasise some elements while others emphasise others. But the pattern is consistent. At the heart of it is the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.

What about loving people? None of them mentioned loving people! Where does that fit in? Loving people is one aspect of living a life worthy of the gospel. It is not the core message of the gospel. It is one of the results of the gospel.  People who have been loved and freely forgiven, love in response. People who have received freely, give freely. People who have been loved by God, love God and love God’s people. Jesus taught great ethical principles – like loving others – but they are impossible to live up to consistently, without His death and resurrection. Our constant failure would make His teaching bad news. His death and resurrection are the good news that enable Christians to obey His teaching and follow His example.

Today, there are a great many explanations of what the gospel is. Some people do define the gospel in terms of loving others as Jesus commanded. Other people have different ideas about what the gospel is. But we need to be careful. Remember that Paul said that he passed on what he had received. He didn’t make it up. It is God who defines what the gospel is. And Paul said to the Galatians that any so-called gospel, different from the biblical gospel, is in reality, no gospel at all (Gal 1:6-9).

The core message of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again. How do you respond to that message? I really hope that you have received it; you have taken your stand on it; you have been saved by it and you are holding firmly to it. I hope that is the case but we all need to reflect on that; what is your response to the gospel message: Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again?

4.9.16 – Walking Wisdom’s Path – Rachel Judge

Read Proverbs 4: 1 – 9

God of grace,

Your spirit moves within us revealing your power and holiness. Now we soak up your glorious presence as we open your word, and desire to be led on in our walk with you. Speak into my words and our hearts we pray, so that we might be renewed in spirit, mind, compassion and action by your Holy Spirit.

Hear us and respond to us we pray, in the strong name of Jesus our Saviour,

Amen

I wonder who it was who made a significant difference in your life when you were younger?

Did you have an inspirational teacher, minister, Bible Class leader, cub leader, running coach neighbour, uncle or aunt, who took an interest in you and maybe prayed for you?

Who in your family, neighbourhood or circle of friends stood out, or still stands out, as possessing a wisdom, a depth of insight, that informs your thinking and influences your choices in life?

For me, in my early teens in Oamaru such a person was my music theory teacher, Sheelagh.  She was also my Bible Class teacher at one stage, and was taking some time off teaching to be with her two pre-schoolers. I loved studying music theory which gave an ordered pattern to my life at a time when priorities and passions can be somewhat topsy-turvy. I particularly appreciated, even more now probably than at the time, Sheelagh’s interest in me as a person, and her gentle but memorable speaking into my life in deep ways which influenced some of my decisions, attitudes and beliefs long after I shifted away.

I’ll be keen to hear whose faces or names jumped into your mind and heart this morning, maybe from long ago, both people who inspired and stuck with you, and people whom you have been a mentor and an inspiration to – perhaps without even realising it.

Sometimes mentoring is intentional and organised like the award winning Buddy Programme offered so successfully by Presbyterian Support Otago, with leadership from our Marco, one of our youth leaders.

At other times a mentoring relationship or a friendship between two people of different ages and life experiences evolves naturally and at its best gives tremendous satisfaction to both people. When I was around 13 – 15 I had a couple of older ladies whom I regularly visited and learned much from, still remembering lessons learned and conversations enjoyed to this day. Such relationships are contexts in which we learn wisdom – its necessity, priority and blessings.

Throughout the pages of the Bible the priority of seeking and finding wisdom, God’s wisdom is reiterated, verse after verse, chapter after chapter.

The Book of Proverbs supremely incarnates and distils God’s thinking in ways that we mortals can absorb. Sadly we’ll simply skim its surface today and just concentrate on verses in chapter 4 about the benefits of wisdom, but I do encourage you to dig deeper in your own study of the Bible.  Pick some favourite proverbs, and learn them, maybe email or post them to your grandchildren or a close friend. Keep the proverb you received on your notice sheet today close by – at the kitchen sink or in your Bible or by your bed – wherever you’ll see it most often, and ponder on how you can live out its intent on a daily basis. Or alternatively, over morning tea, or lunch, discuss the proverb you’ve received with someone else, or swap with them!

Wisdom is a key characteristic of God. It’s part of God’s DNA. So when we say God gives wisdom we’re acknowledging that as we cleave to God, incredibly the Creator of the whole universe, who knows each of us intimately, we are receiving God’s self within us at the same time as we’re offering ourselves freely to the Lord of Lords. This is what happened supremely when God gave us His Son Jesus, His unique gift, a life-giving sacrifice for each of us.

Throughout this series of sermons in term 3 about wisdom we’ve come across the recurring refrain “The fear/ reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

The last time we had Bible verses attached to our notice sheets it was from Psalm 111:10    that we learned that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, or as the Good News Bible translates that verse, “The way to become wise is to honour the Lord.”

Wisdom is missing from our society today because we don’t honour, our society doesn’t   have reverence for God. With genuine reverence come godly wisdom and all the benefits of God’s grace – power to minister as Jesus did, gifts of the Spirit, a Jesus heart – compassionate, obedient and forgiving.

I said earlier that because wisdom is a key characteristic of God, when we are in relationship with our God of Wisdom, we are in fact ourselves taking on some of those glorious character traits, including wisdom. We’ve spoken quite often this term of the need to lean into God, learning to trust him much more than we trust ourselves. And this, my friends, is what makes us so wondrously distinctive in our self-centred society today. We know we don’t have all the answers. We boast, in fact that we don’t know everything. We glory in the fact that we find all knowledge in God, and that honouring God leads to wisdom and fullness of life. We delight in the truth that that we are supremely found in God’s love when we cling not to our own security or knowledge. It’s those inside-out, upside down, topsy-turvy kingdom of God values that we embrace for we know that there is true, everlasting life.

Jesus said, in John 10:10 ‘I have come that you may have life, life in all its fullness, or ‘abundant life’ in some translations.  We find abundant life in Christ when we learn to let go of being in control and give God the reins, when we live as we speak when we say we trust in God rather than in our own abilities, our own experience, our own qualifications or even our own family.

This indeed is counter-culture living – depending on our Creator God, on our Loving God, rather than in our own strength.  But independence is so highly prized in our society – knowing all the answers ourselves, so not needing to take guidance from anyone. ‘Do your own thing’ the world around us tells us. So, quite deliberately when we were finishing putting the Mornington Messenger together on Monday we chose a verse from Proverbs for the centre of a page, as a witness to another way of living, a way of life that doesn’t have ourselves at the centre of it. When you receive your copy next weekend then, or as you fold it on Tuesday, take note of Proverbs 13: 13 “ If you refuse good advice you are asking for trouble; follow it and you are safe.”

Our passage for today, from Proverbs 4, is headed up, in the Good News Bible anyway ‘The Benefits of Wisdom.’ A fulfilled life, safety, protection, greatness, honour and crowning glory – these are some of the blessings bestowed on us, Scripture tells us, on those who choose to follow wisdom’s path.

Furthermore, as we lean into God for comfort, direction and protection, we are defined by our relationship with God our Father, not by the mistakes we’ve made in the past. The saddest stories I’ve heard from people over the years are undoubtedly those of regret, as they’ve realised that their choices have defined their future if they are determined to retain control over their own life instead of offering it back as a gift to God, who of course granted us the fulsome gift of life for a start. If we can do this, see our life in Jesus as the greatest gift of all, we will have that most valuable long term perspective which helps us to learn from our past, to receive forgiveness for the wrongs we’ve done, and to place ourselves enthusiastically in God’s hands, for we know that there we shall be safe.

One of the many rich blessings of being part of a church family is sharing together the best gift in the world with people of all ages. Many people don’t have that pleasure of sharing time together worshipping the Maker of the Universe with people older and younger than themselves, forming precious bonds as they do so. The passage we’re living in today, at the beginning of Proverbs 4 links three generations just in his introductory comments – “My child,( 1 generation) listen closely to my teachings and learn common sense….. when I (2nd generation)was still very young …. My father (3rd generation) said to me ‘if you follow my teachings, and keep them in mind you will live.” The writer shows how the love of the best and most valuable things in life will be transmitted mainly by personal influence, to and from those we love the most. That’s a truth and a challenge. If we really love our family members we will want to influence them as much as we can to follow Jesus, to pursue wisdom, found supremely in God’s character, and in God’s relationship with us.

Everything else in life, Solomon implies, pales in comparison. What the world treasures are mere baubles that fade and crash, but in God’s wisdom we find eternal value.

“Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.  Whatever else you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4: 7, Good News Bible.)

Prayer as we respond to God’s grace……

21.8.16 – Finding God’s Wisdom – Rachel Judge

Read Job 12:12-17; Job 28:20-28

Prayer for wisdom and insight

You might find yourself saying sometimes, to yourself, maybe, or perhaps to a teenager – ‘now was that a wise decision?’

I’m conscious that in my late twenties and early thirties in particular, but quite likely at many other times in life also I’ve made some unwise decisions. I praise God so much for rescuing me from some seriously sticky situations which my lack of wisdom threw me into.

What we’re yearning for today is much more, however, than the ability to avoid stupidity – our own or others’.

What the poet Job, (and everyone knows poets are deep) wants us to know about wisdom is that it’s not about us at all! It’s a matter of leaning into God so that our natural human weakness is replaced by God’s supernatural strength.

Job’s answer to his questioner, his taunter really, his friend, Zophar the Naamathite, in chapter 12 is that God is in control. “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” (Job 12: 12)

Job, a once wealthy and always a truly good man, has had his life of ease and contentment stripped from him when Satan challenges God to see how loyal Job remains to God when all his wealth, oxen, sheep, donkeys, servants even his health and his family were stripped away.

Chapter 12, in response to his mate Zophar’s probing and prodding, asks the key question, who has wisdom? The answer, which really requires of us months or years of study rather than one Sunday, comes with confidence, as well as some sarcasm and humour. Job challenges his friend to declare his source of wisdom. ‘Who do you think you are?’ he taunts him. Listen, I have wisdom too, you know. In fact, even animals know a thing or two. They have something to teach us you know, and those of you who have dogs know that already.

There are moments we all have – of despair, fear, and real insight sometimes – that we are not the answers to life’s big questions, that what we have on our own is not enough. When we have lost everything – when we are full of disease – when our friends criticise us and let us down, when our life’s savings have gone, we should do what Job did – focus on God, dig deep into God’s wisdom and depend on God’s love for us.

In spite of all he has lost at this point, Job points to the wisdom of God – and how powerful God is.

Instead of dwelling on what he has lost, Job highlights God’s wisdom and power Job 12: 13” With God are wisdom and might, counsel and understanding.”

Consider all that God can do…

  • If He tears a thing apart – it can not be rebuilt.
  • If He captures someone – he can not be released.
  • If He holds back water – it will dry up.
  • If God sends water it – it will over flow the earth
  • Wisdom and power belong to Him – everyone has to answer to Him
  • God is wiser then the wise – He can make even wise people look like fools
  • God can humble those who think they have power.
  • God strips religious leaders of their robes and office.
  • He takes away the ability to speak and wisdom that has been gathered over the years.
    He will put to shame those who think they are mighty, pure and powerful.
  • He will expose even the darkest corners of everyone’s life.
  • He makes nations great – or will bring them down.
  • He can take away understanding so that people stumble all over themselves.
  • God is light – without Him there is nothing but darkness.

    Because Job’s God, our God can do all these things, we come into God’s presence humbly. “Every knee will bend and tongue will confess” – no exceptions. We come as we are, with no accoutrements.

“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace.”, part of the third verse of the much loved hymn ‘Rock of Ages’.

These words, these yearnings of our heart to experience more and more of God in our lives, are our expression of our desire to give all of our selves to God’s infinite wisdom and mercy, not holding back anything.

We will all meet our maker. We will all be judged.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7

Well, in no way do we want to be known as foolish.

Romans 14:11 

‘It is written:

‘“As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
“Every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.”

Friends, this is all about dependence. Living our lives, acknowledging that it is God who is in control, not us. We simply don’t have all the answers. We are nothing on our own.

We are everything in Jesus who gave everything for us.

Slide on screen “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1: 5

Prayer of Response to God

14.8.14 – Love Trumps All – Rachel Judge

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; 1 Corinthians 13

Have you ever found it easier to love the whole world, than one or two people in it?’ Have you ever felt like yelling ‘I have no trouble with the world – it’s people I can’t stand!’ Maybe you feel like this at the moment. Loving the world in general isn’t that difficult; loving the people around us can be a major challenge.

The apostle Paul, human like us, no doubt had his bad days also, when loving wasn’t easy, when people weren’t easy. Today, as we prepare to break bread together and to join with Jesus in his agony before death, we want to ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3: 18, 19) Let’s ask God now to fill us with that love, with His love.

We pray….

Ever loving God,

The enormity of your love takes our breath away.

In the light of our fickleness your faithfulness amazes and strengthens us from the inside out. However our day has started, whatever we are looking forward to or fearing in this day or week, remind us now in ways we can’t ignore ,

of your ever present wisdom and hope in our wobbliest of moments and our fears of abandonment or failure.

Breathe your Holy Spirit now into my words and our responses, we pray in the strong Name of Jesus, the Light of the world,

Amen.

Today as we join together in communion, as we encounter Jesus with his arms spread out on the cross in love for us, we discern the nature of God’s love. This phenomenal love, is for each one of us, all the time. There is no time when God turns his back on us. The teacher, the wise Solomon, reminds us that there is a moment for everything. God invites us to see his presence, His face in everything –  the experiences we revel in – ‘ a time to laugh’, ‘a time to dance’, ‘a time to heal’, ‘a time to mend’ – and the times we’d never ourselves choose to experience – ‘a time to mourn, a time to tear, a time to hate, a time for war.’

There is not one of us who is considered so bad that God’s love can’t enfold him or her. The Voice, a recent paraphrase of the Bible, describes God’s love in 1 Corinthians 13 as having no arrogance, never being rude, crude or indecent, nor being self-absorbed or easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice, but truth – yes truth, is love’s delight. Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what. Love will never become obsolete.”

It is our loving God who birthed creation and now pursues a broken people in the most spectacular way. Our loving God compassionately understands our hurts, our defensive behaviour and our fears of being left behind and so emphasises the importance and the power of love in this famous passage.

The context into which Paul wrote this beautiful and practical description of love was in fact a letter of rebuke to a dysfunctional church for the way they were abusing spiritual gifts given by God to build up the church. Paul mentions six gifts of the Spirit at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13 – tongues, prophecy, knowledge, faith, giving and martyrdom, and then declares that even these amazing gifts amount to nothing if they are offered and used without love.

This portion of Paul’s letter, as does the much older philosophical book of Ecclesiastes, aims to distil God’s wisdom into human situations, to guide fickle human beings who are in danger of being led by their feelings rather than by God’s wisdom, into despair and negativity. We might be obedient to God in all other respects, but without love we’re a loud, unpleasant noise which distracts and disturbs others, rather than building them up in faith.

Many of us, almost without realising it, spend quite a bit of time, peering into the future, wondering how we will cope with whatever is around the corner. How will I manage when the kids leave home? Should I stay in this job for ever, or learn some new skills? When and where should I move? What happens if my health worsens?

This gem from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds and reassures us that when we take the strong love of God into any unknown situation – the sort of possibilities that the sage of Ecclesiastes suggests – planning, uprooting, weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing, searching, giving up searching, keeping silent or speaking, or whatever– then we enter the future with hope. Than we need not be afraid. Then when we bring the situation plus love to God’s throne of grace, we have confidence born of a hope that is eternal – which emanates from God’s passionate love and perfect plan for us.

And that’s what we bring before God into communion today also. As we offer up our hands to God to be filled with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, they can cling still to that fear for what the future may bring, to our fear of failing, or our difficulties in being uprooted from our home, our family and all we’ve previously known, searching constantly for some new pleasure or obsession. But then when we open our rigid hands to take the bread, the body of Christ, to drink the wine, the blood that Christ shed for us, then his unfathomable and lasting love sweeps over us. Then we have peace – not the peace that the world gives us, but the peace won for us by the Prince of Peace.

Then we’ll notice something shifting, pain and worry being lifted from us. Then those endless possibilities of life from the Creator of all that is good – all the searching, weeping, laughing, tearing down and building, the scattering and gathering, the times of embracing and times of being on our own, all have a God-given purpose. No longer will we be striving for the sake of striving, but we will have a goal, which God alone fulfils of a growing relationship with Him.

This divine relationship will encompass and protect us through our mountain top experiences and the lowest depths of our lives. We will never be alone. Psalm 95:4 assures us of God’s coverage of everything – including the variety of experiences and roles God calls us into.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him”(Psalm 95: 4).

Prayer of response to God’s love