My Blog

The Maker of the Jar

Introduction

I heard a story (again) yesterday.  A teacher takes out a jar, which is a life, and puts things in it:

 

  • 1st, Golf balls – your health, family & friends (is it full?);
  • 2nd, Marbles – your job, house, car, etc (is it full?);
  • 3rd, Sand – all the other stuff of life (is it full?).

 

They all fit if you put them in that order.  However, if you put the sand in first, then there is not enough room for everything.  The moral is to prioritise loving relationships first in life, otherwise, they suffer.

Now this story is fine on the surface, but it has always annoyed me, and yesterday I asked God ‘why is that?’  He answered straight away, showing me that this story is useless to people who lack:

 

  • Good health or a loving family;
  • A job or possessions; and
  • Everything else – if just staying alive is a struggle.

 

So this story only speaks to a privileged few.  It is only for those who are rich, in every sense of the word, those who have choice, who have to choose, because they have so much.

Scripture

Contrast that story with this image from Revelation Chap 21.  God speaks to the faithful, who have lost their jobs, possessions and loved ones, who have been tortured and even killed because of their loyalty to Him.  He promises a new universe, with a new Jerusalem, where God and His people will live together like never before.  There will be no more death, grief, crying or pain.  God declares that life, the universe & everything is completed, as he is the beginning and the end of history, the reason for it all.

Conclusion

God’s Revelation is greater than man’s wisdom.  He will satisfy those who have everything and nothing, the loved and unloved, the comfortable and the suffering.  He made all the golf balls, all the marbles and all the sand – every good thing comes from him.  He made the jar itself.  He is the creator and ultimate fulfilment of the universe and of everything in it.  He is love and life itself.  Amen.

Waiting … Patience

A Sermon on 2Peter 3:8-15a (Year B, Advent 2)

Aim:  To see our history and future with God’s perspective.

Waiting for Christ’s Return

The early church had a problem:

  • Many believers expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, but he had not.
  • Many had died waiting, even some leaders had been executed for their faith!

Where was Jesus?  Why hadn’t he come back to save them from their earthly trials?

Peter must have felt this personally.  He had known Jesus as a man, as well as anyone could – better than many of Jesus’ own human family.

Peter’s answer is to put things in perspective – in previous verses he give’s the perspective of Creation – earth, water and fire.  In these verses he points out that God’s timing is not ours:

  • God is patient and wants to give people time to turn to Christ and be saved.
  • Peter could not know how many people, because the world is bigger than he knew!
  • Southern Africa, the Americas, East Asia, the Pacific and Australia were unknown to them.

He assures the early church – and us – that the Day of the Lord will come.

  • He uses Jesus own words to describe the suddenness and ferocity of the destruction, which will be total.
  • Everything that we are used to and take for granted will be gone.
  • So, how should we then live?  Patience means salvation!

Waiting for Christmas

We have to wait decades to be united with God, and Creation must wait much longer.  Today we think of both Christ’s First and Second comings:

  • The Jews had to wait hundreds of years for the Messiah; and
  • We’ve had to wait for 2,000 years already for Christ’s return;
  • We could be stuck on this planet, this history, this universe for a long time.

Maybe the annual cycle that we go through is training:

  • Maybe, while the days and years pass we should use this cycle, ride it like a wave;
  • Make the most of every moment (“if you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” Kipling).
  • Focus on the eternal, unchanging, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Christianity is for life, not just for Christmas!

Conclusion

We need that refreshment, that renewal, we need to celebrate Jesus’ Birth, a baby, something fresh and innocent and new and wonderful (although babies are demanding too and they take years to mature!)  We need God’s perspective – personal, unexpected, unusual, and refreshing.

God’s Leadership versus Human Leadership

Samuel has appointed his sons as judges, but their leadership is corrupt…a sermon on 1 Samuel 8:4-20 (Year B, Proper 7)

The People/Elders

A conspiracy!  They have planned this, rather than listening to God, waiting on his word.  The Elders don’t want to keep going with the current system – they want something new, better!

  • Why won’t they try and make the current system work? …
  • … you don’t make a name for yourself by keeping things the same!

The focus of the elders is ‘keeping up with the neighbours’ other nations.  Nevertheless, in vv19-20 the people want:

  • A tangible, visible leader;
  • To be the same as others – they desire to conform;
  • Someone to make the difficult decisions for them; and
  • They desire for security.

God and His Prophet

Samuel is horrified, (Moses held it together, but now it’s all going wrong on his watch) so he goes to God in prayer immediately.  God is the real authority here, Samuel is only his servant, his prophet; Christian leaders take note!  We see an incredible insight into God’s relationship with his people:

  1. God knows that His people are consistently unfaithful;
  2. Nevertheless, He commands His leader to listen to their demands;
  3. He ensures that they are warned of the consequences; but
  4. He does not force His will on them.

The Prophecy

Samuel warns the people that a king will compete with next-door nations for power and glory, which will lead to war.  Then the people and the economy will be devoted to war, which is costly.  That hierarchy between king and people will be costly – all those layers of self-important people will eat up what once belonged to the people and the 10% tithe to God.  They think that they would get a king to serve them, but they will serve him!

Application

Someone asked the question: ‘how do you explain war to children?’  Here is an answer.  When we humans are not busy loving God, listening to him and giving him the glory, we get busy looking after themselves and our possessions.  Then we begin comparing themselves to others and start looking at our neighbours with suspicion!  So, conflict begins…

Our church leaders may be weak and fallible, and we have those like Samuel’s sons among us, but our hope is not in them.  Our God is pure and can hold power and authority without being corrupted.  We have the Spirit – the mind of Christ – in us, the loving example of Jesus and God Himself.

Not Power, but Faith

We’re not looking for power, but faith … a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10 (Year B, Proper 9 / Ordinary 14)

Introduction

Sometimes I hear Christians say “if only we really believed and really loved like Jesus we would transform the world,” but Jesus said that most would reject God, and war/poverty would be with us until the end times.  What they really mean is if we had more numbers we would have power!

Scripture – 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10

Paul, a man of great faith, is not healed  (miracles are not a reward for faith).  He explains that he must have this thorn in his flesh, to make him rely on God’s grace.

The Corinthians are wealthy, powerful, clever, successful & strong.  Paul’s two big letters to them (16 & 13 Chaps) are one long rebuke!  He has to justify his authority to say these things and does so – by boasting about his sufferings (Chap 11)!  Paul uses his weakness to shame the strong (as in 1Cor Chaps 1-2).

Application

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men” said a wise historian about the idea that religious leaders and kings could not make mistakes.

I mentioned the Islamic State earlier.  The Five Pillars of Islam are: declaring the faith; prayer; giving; fasting; and pilgrimage.  But look what happens when you give people guns – these gentle ideas are quickly thrown out!

We need weakness to remind us to rely on God.  Many of you know my wife but may not know that she has been ill for all her adult life.  Our struggle against this illness has been good for us – it has brought us closer together, stopped us from being able to take each other for granted.  Our relationship with God is like that.

Conclusion

We won’t transform the world for the better by being strong or clever or powerful.  There are lots of strong, clever and powerful people in the world and they’re making it worse as often as better!  We will transform ourselves, not the world, by doing three things:

  1. We will be fallible, average and powerless (what we are now);
  2. but we will rely on God’s Omni-power, -presence, -knowledge and -seeing: faith in God; and
  3. we will be doing the best that we can.

Maturity in Christ: Commitment not Consumption

Maturity in Christ: Commitment not Consumption … a Sermon on John 6:24-35 (Year B, Ordinary 18 / Proper 13)

Aim: To hear what Christ has to say to hungry people.

Introduction

Our Western society consumes 80% of the world’s resources, even though we are only 20% of its population.  We often define themselves by what they do.  We are identified, labelled – and valued – by and for our contribution to consumption: where we are in the supply chain.

Nowadays we don’t just consume material things.  We want to choose a ‘spirituality’ that suits us; we want “our rights”.  Even Jesus says come and consume me for lasting satisfaction!  So why aren’t consumers queuing up to get a piece of Jesus?

The Bread of Life

We heard a conversation between Jesus and the people.  Jesus is none too impressed with their attitude and is very rude to them (v26).  Jesus then challenges them, because v29 really means ‘you must stake everything on me’; however, the crowd dither and ask for another sign (Jesus has just fed them miraculously), justifying their demand with the story of the Manna.  Jesus replies that the significance of the Manna is not the miracle itself but that it is a sign pointing to God’s offer of eternal bread from heaven right now! (v32-3).  Then Jesus declares “it’s me!  I AM the bread of life.”

But Jesus is not offering an instant consumer product:

  • Bread comes from wheat, but we can’t eat wheat. It has to be harvested, threshed, milled, mixed into dough and baked.  By the end, the wheat has changed out of all recognition.
  • It’s the same for Jesus. We can’t eat raw Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning.  He had to be born, grow & learn; he had to teach, lead, heal, preach, provoke, be arrested, put on trial, be tortured, die and rise again.

Conclusion.

Jesus is not a popular consumer product – he requires commitment: not popular – even among believers; in Jesus’ time ‘many disciples desert[ed] Jesus’ (vv 60-70).  Jesus is not bread for a day, but for life, which is sometimes painful: we don’t always get our ‘rights’ or what we want.  But we have what we need: Christ, His Grace, His Gifts and each other.

[Let us share the peace.]

Jesus Changes His Mind

Jesus Changes His Mind … a sermon on Mark 7:24-27 (Year B, Proper 18)

Aim: To see Jesus as real – real God and a real human.

Scripture

In Chapter 6, Jesus had a tough time.  He’s been rejected at Nazareth, by those who should have known him best.  His friend and Cousin John the Baptist has been killed.  He’s sent out his disciples and performed miracles to feed the relentless crowds.  In Chapter 7 he’s argued with the Pharisees about what’s right and wrong after they found a way to criticise his disciples.  Now he’s trying to get some peace and quiet by staying incognito in a house over the border in a foreign town.  At last, he can get some time to deal with everything that has happened to him.

Somehow, a foreigner has recognised him.  Even though she’s a woman, she has the nerve to approach a Rabbi and ask for his help!  Jesus gives her a short answer, referring to non-Jews as ‘dogs’: at best this is a patronising comment, at worst it is a racist insult!  Jesus is not being very nice, but she won’t give up, uses a term of respect to this rude Jew.  Then Jesus gives in and answers her.

Analysis

Mark tells it like it was, perhaps for comedy value, even though it might embarrass Jesus.  There are two difficult issues for us here.  First, we see Jesus portrayed as human; he is not the perfect gentleman and can be harsh when irritated.  Second, he changes his mind and grants a request, even when the person who asks has no business asking him for anything.

Our Christian doctrine, our traditional theology tells us that God is perfectly knowing, all seeing and unchanging, so Jesus can’t have changed his mind!  Sometimes this is explained away as Jesus ‘testing’ people’s faith.  A well-known Christian hymn is titled ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’; here, he is not!

Conclusion

However, I feel encouraged by these verses just as they are.  The Bible does not shy away from the facts, even when it might not always look good or be interpreted the in ‘right’ way.  This gives me confidence that it is true.  I am excited that mere humans if they have faith, can change the mind of God.  In the OT, Abraham persuaded God to spare his cousins’ family.  In the NT, Jesus is persuaded by the persistent faith of a foreigner, a woman – when foreign women counted for nothing in Judea.

Sometimes we are told things about God, which we are not supposed to question.  Does faith mean that we’re not meant to reason about them?  Thank God Jesus does not conform to such dogma!  Thank God that Mark tells us the truth about Jesus and does not give us a sterile piece of propaganda!  Jesus (who is God, Holy Spirit, creator of the universe and all) has compassion, and is prepared to change our world in response to a mere human!

What is our Response to Suffering?

What is our response to suffering … a sermon on Job 1:1;2:1-10 (Year B, Proper 22)

Introduction

Job’s sufferings are very well known, even outside God’s people.  This book has early Hebrew ideas about how God operates, with Satan working for God, rather than against him. Everybody goes to the same place (Sheol) when they die, there is no judgement after death, so the only punishment is during this life. These ideas changed later in the OT and then dramatically in the NT.

Most of the narrative is about Job’s friends offering him ‘wisdom’ and ‘advice’ but always based on the assumption that Job has sinned, and as soon as repents, he will be healed.  But in this passage, we see how it all begins.

Characters:

  • God – seen here as presiding like a judge in court over the reports of the angels who watch over the earth.
  • Satan (the ‘Accuser’ or Prosecutor) – who seems rather too eager to perform his role.
  • Job – a good and prosperous man, who has lost all his possessions (Chapter 1) and now his health (Chapter 2).
  • Job’s wife – who urges him to curse God and be done with it: die.

Exegesis

  • Is Job truly loyal to God, or is because he wants to hold onto the good things he’s got (an important lesson for rich, western Christians)?
  • Would we remain loyal like Job, when stripped of everything, including our health and vigour?

Application

I don’t know much about suffering, but I see it close by and on the TV; I also know what it is to receive well-meaning advice from ‘friends’ when in difficulties!

You will have varying degrees of direct and indirect experience of suffering. There will be no rhyme or reason to who has experienced what.  But, guess what: we’re still here!

God’s answer to Job is not an argument but a revelation of his overpowering greatness and goodness.  Whatever happens in life God can be relied upon.  We are much better off than Job, as we have Jesus (the Defender) – now ‘we know that our Redeemer liveth’, unlike Job, who was sure that a mediator existed, but could only hope for life after death.  In the face of suffering, we know God, we know salvation and we know that we are going to God after this life.  Hallelujah.