Sunday Services

Text of the sermon for studying at home

Rom.8,14-17 / Acts 2,1-21          Pentecost               5 June 2022

 

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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.”

 

Dear friends

If any evidence were needed that the event of Pentecost is of first importance for the Christian life and hope, it is here in what Paul says: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit is not an appendix (of minor importance) to the main story of Jesus Christ which ends or concludes with Jesus’ resurrection (Easter), but is very much a necessary part of Christ’s work on earth (for us!), which without it would not be on-going. Indeed, faith would not be going on, church would not be going on, Christian living would not be going on without the Spirit of God.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” The coming of the Holy Spirit is one in importance with everything Jesus does in the Gospels, it’s what it all leads to – as Jesus himself pointed out to his disciples in his parting words to them, when he told them to wait for the power to be sent to them from the Father. But it is seen also at the beginning of John’s gospel, where the significance of Christ’s coming and work is put like this: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jn.1,12) And the witness of John the Baptist about Jesus made the connection to the Holy Spirit clear: “he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Mt.3,11)

What happened at Pentecost, then, was and is no less definitive for the Christian faith and for the church than is any aspect of Jesus Christ’s life, word and work.
In fact, without this event the Christian faith would have been something of a non-starter, it would have become like a present with nothing inside, a thing without content; and the church likewise – it would have become a mere shadow and an empty hull, quite unlike what by the Holy Spirit (!) it actually did become.
Let us understand this also as an explanation for why there may be such a thing as a faith that is Christian in name, but in practice turns out to have no particularly Christian content to it, that is, does not translate into love on the ground and obedience to God’s will which is his children’s joy and desire; and the same with church: why it can have the name, but not be the thing. It is the coming of the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – that creates a church which is rich in real content, the content being Jesus Christ.

The word used in Acts 2 to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is telling – it’s the word “to fill”: “it filled the whole house where they were sitting” in verse 2, and then in verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” But to fill is to supply a new content!
It is with a view to this ‘content’ that Scripture counsels Christians: “Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” The same is in view when Jesus says to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit”. In numerous places in the book of Acts we are taught the connection there is between a faith that has real content and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.

But let us ask: What happens in such filling? What of the content that is being supplied? It is instructive here to note that the people filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were mocked by onlookers who explained what they saw by saying: “They are filled with new wine!” In other words they said: “Look at them, no longer themselves, drunk, no longer with it, and it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning! Which means they are going to be of no use to anyone for the rest of the day!”
Not themselves – no use for the going concerns of the day, useless: this is the world’s perspective on the effect of the Holy Spirit on those who receive him; this is the world’s perspective on the Christian faith when it has content!
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we do become less in ourselves and less of ourselves: but we are not drunk, outside of a right mind or in a state of alienation, we are in fact more ourselves, truer to ourselves and truer to each other, and less alienated. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we do become useless to the world: but we are not drunk or too inebriated to care or out of a right mind (as the world supposes!), we are useless to the world because we pay attention to the things of God and are useful to his purposes.

Surely this is what Peter described when he explained what was happening. “They are not drunk. They are less their old selves, yes, but they are truer selves; they are useless, but only because they are in fact becoming useful.”
The way Paul puts it, making clearer in the process the implication of it, is to say that those who are led by the Spirit  are children of God. That is, they are no longer children of the world.
This speaks of real change; it is a change of content. For as children of the world what were we? What is the content of a child of the world? Paul describes it in the first chapter of this same letter: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled (!) with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full (!) of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” (Rom.1,28.29) The spirit that holds sway here, says Paul, is that of slavery: as children of the world, we are constrained by the law of sin to do wrong, driven by our fears to seek our own best interests at a cost to others and in ways that are at odds with God.
But as children of God, he says, we have new and other content in us: new principles take the place of the old ones – principles born of the Son’s love for the Father and obedience to his will. They are the principles of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And they come to live and be productive in us through the Holy Spirit who fills us ( = believers in Christ!).
Being filled with the Holy Spirit, those who believe in Jesus Christ are established in a relationship with God as his children, to know, love and obey the Father from the heart. The Holy Spirit indwells those who believe in Jesus Christ so that Christ becomes their life’s new content. [Fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.]

Dear friends, bearing these important truths about the Holy Spirit and about the place that being filled with Holy Spirit has for the life of faith and of the church, let us remember the promise that “all who call on the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2,21). Let us call on him who became poor to make us rich, died to give us life and promised to send the Holy Spirit to those who believe in him.

                                                                   AMEN

 

29th May 2022

Isaiah 54, 10:

“‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”

 

Dear friends

In preparing for confirmation I put a series of pictures before Lizzie and asked her to choose one which she would then receive as a present on this occasion. Her choice, however, had to be justified. She had to say why she chose what she did, what “message” the picture conveyed to her in terms of the faith and the truth of God’s Word we had been looking at over the past year. The picture she chose is one of mountains and hills, above them the sky and at the foot of them a number of buildings which include a church.
“Why this one?” I asked. It reminded her of the foundation that is God’s love and the need to build our lives upon this foundation, that is, upon the love of God.

What, indeed, is the foundation upon which we build our lives? And what is the foundation we can and must build upon if it is to yield life, and not the loss of it?
It is a great blessing to keep being reminded of this and to realise that the issue what foundation we build on is really a matter of the truth of our lives. For build we all do and do in any case: but it is the foundation you build on that determines the goodness and truth of your build. Let us all remember this in the spirit of the words that wisdom says in Prov.8,17: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” Pointing out that building our life on its true foundation is a life-long process and is indeed a love-affair.
When the people of Israel forsake their foundation, God in his address to them, they build what becomes their own destruction. It is always the result or consequence of forgetting God, a refusal to know him, loving what is not God as though it was ( of loving what is not right as though it was, of loving what is false as though it was true).
In the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life – surely the fullness of life that we all intend to build towards -, his foundation is revealed to be not the goodness and love of God, but the mixture of two things: of material possessions (wealth) and of his moral self (reputation and record). He turns away when Jesus points to a different foundation for building towards life – following him. He cannot countenance what Jesus proposes, because it empties him of what he has and of what he is as the foundation of his life and instead asks him to trust Christ as the foundation to build his life on – “follow me”.
Here we realise how little man changes and has changed through the centuries. Jesus said: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Lk.12,15) And here we are, being told loudly and persistently and from every corner just about, to do precisely what Jesus warns against: we are told that to live is to consume and have much, that to live is to be much: much of what you can make of yourself; that to live is to have what you covet, and that your own goodness earns you life and heaven. The heart in Jesus‘ day was receptive to this message and needed warning, because it was building on wrong foundations and towards destruction. And is it not so now? Is not the foundation on which life is built today by many the search for material wellbeing and wealth and the search for the fulfilment of our own selves by ourselves?
Indeed, the pull is strong and the temptation real to believe this and fall in with this ‘faith’ – for that is what it is! – and to disbelieve Jesus’ other word that belongs here: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk.9,25) And the strength that is exerted to keep us from realising that it doesn’t profit and how it doesn’t, is great and relentless. It needn’t, however, achieve its goal, because the lack of profit manifests itself in manifold pains and sufferings that result from doing away with God, in worry and fear and loneliness in a cosmos that that does not speak, in the sense of being lost.

Yet here is another foundation, God has laid it and faith builds upon it. And what faith builds upon it is life, even life everlasting. This foundation makes the life that is built on it a thing of truth and love, because it imparts its own characteristics on to the build: It is the steadfast love of God (grace) and is the peace of God.
They are such as never to depart or be removed from those whose faith rests upon them. Other foundations may seem as firm and set in place as mountains and hills, yet they are illusionary like the sand in Jesus’ parable of the foolish builder, which allowed for a quick and impressive build, but not one that stood through the storm, the winds and rain, when it came.

What faith builds on this foundation? And to what faith are these words said: “my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you”? It is faith in Jesus Christ, for in him we encounter God’s steadfast love, see and know the compassion of God towards sinners, going all the way in love and patience to reclaim those who believe from all the ways in which they build and have built their lives away from God, away from his love, light and truth, and to establish them on new ways, giving them freedom to do his will; in him we see and know the peace of God which removes from the scene that is our life all condemnation and separation from God that our sins and death incur.

Into this faith you have been baptised. Baptism says:  The foundation is there, it is there before all else! Build upon it through Jesus Christ and in his strength, listening to his voice and sharing in the faith and life of his people (the fullness of his body). The foundation upon which by faith you stand will carry and hold you and sustain you. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Jesus Christ.

                                                                          AMEN

 

Acts 16, 9-15                                                                                                                      22 May 2022

 

Dear friends

A friend once gave me an intriguing book – it was unlike anything I had ever read, unlike anything I went on to read after it and unlike anything I shall choose to read in the future. It was a collection of short writings/pieces – vignettes, snippets of life-scenes -, but all without a discernible theme or themes (which is why you could not call them stories!). It was an amusing read (I think I found it amusing!), but it left no impression. How could it? There was nothing to wrap your thoughts around,… .The only impression I did take away was how empty or irrelevant and utterly insipid a thing becomes when it is sanitised of a theme or any variation on a theme or when no theme is discernible.

And here’s the thing I want to draw attention to: that the church has a theme, and one that is proper to it. A church found without its theme it is like Peter Pan’s shadow when it is apart from its master. It is by its theme that the church’s essence (=what it is) becomes recognisable and is really present.
If we liken the church to a piece of music, then its sound is that of changing variations on its theme: Some variations are powerful, exuberant, full of energy, others are quiet, slow, almost more like a lament; also they come in different keys, which adds yet more layers to the variety of the whole thing – but always the theme is discernible, and when it is not or no longer discernible, then the music is lost.

The church’s theme is mission, specifically, as we saw over the past few Sundays, God’s mission through Jesus Christ: God’s mission to make good on his promise to help us in Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection and his ongoing presence as the exalted Lord. As Jesus said to his disciples after his resurrection (incidentally: for their forward planning!): “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (Jn.20,21-23) Or again: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28,18-20)

The church’s theme is mission. And it is in the church’s missionary activities, like variations on a theme, that the church is in tune with its theme. This theme must be discernible. I remember the words of a professor who made this point very succinctly, by saying: “A church that does not carry out its commission ( = does not sound its theme) is effectively de-commissioning itself”, echoing Jesus’ warning about salt becoming saltless and therefore pointless.

What we are looking at here is a missionary activity of the early church. And we learn some vital clues about how the church’s theme is carried on. Two things need to be highlighted, for the fact that both of them show what drives a church to remain true to its theme.
One is the place in it all of God’s guidance and guiding. Paul’s missionary activity in Macedonia is initiated by the vision sent to him in the night of a man who urges him with the words: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul confers with his friends and associates; there is a process of discerning, of owning the vision together and come to a conclusion about whether it is or is not God calling. This process, although it did not take long in that instance, will have involved prayer along with the recognition and belief that the Lord does guide his church.
There is always for all missionary activity of the church the initiating moment that is God’s guidance and guiding. This is in the hands of God and in its working remains for the church a mystery – not to be disposed over but believed.
The church never initiates its missionary activity in any true sense but under the governance and guidance of the Lord. Does this mean, then, that the church depends on the experience of visions like that of Paul to initiate real missionary activity? The answer is no, and Paul himself shows this clearly. Often in the book of Acts the Lord’s guidance is picked up and responded to through the very normal and unspectacular process of following the promptings of the heart by way of reasoning, discussing, thinking, planning etc. Sometimes also, as Paul attests in his letters, the Lord’s guidance only appears in the frustration of the church’s own plans, leading it into a period of waiting and repenting and seeking.
But although the church does not (ever or in any case) dispose over God’s governance and guiding – so that it could assume that what the church does God does, or claim God’s guidance for anything it chooses to do -, what is necessary is for the church to be praying for guidance, which it will only do if it believes in the reality of such guidance and the need for it; what is necessary is for the church to discern the word of God in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, because God’s mission is by his word; what is necessary is for the church to hear the call “Come and help us!” and to know that it is a call for the Gospel, the witness of Jesus Christ: a church that is ashamed of the Gospel has abandoned its theme and cannot help a world weighed down by sin and death (alienated from God).

The other thing to be highlighted with regard to the church’s missionary activity appears in what is said of Lydia. Gathering by the river, presumably for prayer, a group of women were joined by Paul and his friends, who sat down and spoke to them. In the course of Paul’s preaching, it is said of one of the women who heard, Lydia, that “the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” This woman came to faith and was baptised, even with all her household. But this is not just interesting, it reveals a deep truth at the heart of all missionary activity: that faith in Jesus – the goal of the church’s missionary activity, the help the heart calls for – is God’s work, is his doing, is by an act of divine revelation.
Many heard, down by that river, but the heart needed opening in order to pay attention to the Gospel, for that is what Paul was speaking, to pay attention, that is, to Christ, the power and wisdom of God, to pay attention to Christ, the love of God and the fullness of life.

Paul was not at liberty to mould the message to suit the tastes and inclinations of those who would not receive the Gospel, nor indeed (!) the tastes and inclinations of those who he would have thought might receive it; nor to change or otherwise doctor the word of Christ. He was not at liberty; and neither is the church, unless it abandons its theme that is mission and faith.
Nor is it necessary. God reveals his word, opening the heart to its truth, where and when the Spirit wills, for it is a thing of grace and must be; only let there be his word, in faithfulness and obedience.

Dear friends, when we know, as we must, of the closedness of the heart to the things of God, we must pray for its opening and for the gift of the Holy Spirit, we must give it the food that is God’s word and ask for the freedom to speak God’s word boldly and clearly and to hear it humbly. And what we thus receive that we can then also give. So the church’s missionary activities shall stay on its God-given theme.

                                AMEN

 

Acts 9, 1-6  1 May 2022

Dear friends

Saul was utterly exasperated, belly full of anger, about the fact that there were Christians, people ‘of the Way’ so-called. The fact that he readily received the letters from the Jerusalem leadership enabling him to persecute those Christians, shows that they were just as exasperated and angry. Why? Well, they were exceedingly frustrated that things had not gone to plan. The crucifixion of Jesus which they had instigated had been meant to put an end to the whole Jesus movement (as they saw it), not as a seed-bed for people who now followed in his way or followed him as the Way, and who said that he was alive! They did not expect that Jesus’ death could have such an effect.
And indeed, how could they? Without Jesus’ resurrection and the conviction of his disciples that he was alive, it would not have been possible. That’s why they were so frustrated at the growing community of Christians, it was not supposed to be possible.

However, if this was now the situation, had not Jesus pointed to it before his death when he said to the disciples: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”? (Jn.12,24) Was not his resurrection from the dead the proof and manner of this?
If there were now people who lived and behaved as though Jesus was not dead but had conquered death for all, lived and behaved in a way that defied both sin and death as though a new reality had arisen and dawned upon them, it was because Jesus had been raised from the dead by the power of God: The same Jesus who three days earlier by the will of God had died on the cross, one without sin but who “was made sin for us” ( punished in our stead, 2Cor.5,21). Which meant (!) that ‘in Christ’ – the risen Son of God! - there was now this:
Sins judged and the sinner put to death, forgiveness: the cross;
The righteous raised and life everlasting: the resurrection. And the people ‘of the Way’ were the people who were in Christ through faith. They were people to whom the cross of Christ and the resurrection of Christ had become something deeply significant and something profoundly consequential.

Saul couldn’t see this, not until it happened to him. And we’re speaking of what happened to him as his conversion – the event when his eyes (those of faith!) were opened and Christ crucified and risen as God’s word to him became something hugely significant and consequential.

How significant? So significant that he came to write this: “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil.3,7-9)

How consequential? So consequential it must rank as a first-order event on the map of history. Certainly Europe would not have had the history and development it had as far as the influence of Christianity is concerned without Paul’s conversion and the way it led him on.

How did it come about? At the centre, it is an encounter with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, revealing to him three things, all of which made for the significance it came to have for him.
1) That Jesus is the Son of God who was raised from the dead and dwells on high as well as in those who believe on him (‘people of the Way’), is present in a living way with the community of believers; Paul realises that the way of truth, the way of God is one of utter condescension, is that of weakness and suffering.
2) That he, Paul (Saul), stands convicted of sin and guilt because his hatred and contempt and his idea of being righteous after the law (!) is revealed to be motivated not by love for God, but by the wish to deny Him; he realises the amazing value of grace – that only by grace does he have a future and that grace opens a new beginning, a new way.
3) That Christ takes him into his service, “You will be told what you are to do”; he realises his life is no longer about the way of Saul, but it is about the way of Christ.

Dear friends, the conversion of Paul, such as it was, through the encounter with Jesus Christ was an event that made the cross and resurrection of Jesus, made judgement and grace significant and consequential. In fact, it was the event to do that! And it is as true to say that every conversion is significant and consequential as it is to say that every faith that is significant and consequential is the fruit of a conversion.

You will all know that there are countries and legal systems that have Anti-conversion Laws in operation, laws which seek to prevent the presence and growth of the ‘people of the Way’. It is rightly seen that it is through conversion that Christ comes to be significant and consequential in people’s lives. Without conversion Christian faith is not to be feared, it is not significant nor consequential; with conversion faith is dangerous, because it is both significant and consequential in that Christ becomes Lord (“my Lord and my God” – Thomas), grace becomes the gift of life and the ruling and principle source of hope and strength and righteous living, and serving God (not man) becomes the way – God comes to have His Way.
Here a church is sometimes seen to be reasonable and non-fundamentalistic for the very reason that it does not push conversion, rather plays it down, and refuses to draw a sharp or any distinction between having converted and being unconverted. While this may be reasonable and non-fundamentalistic, commendable in the eyes of many, it is also a church, and makes for a faith, that is neither significant nor consequential in terms of Christ’s cross and resurrection. And herein lies the plight of the church: not in falling and lacking numbers and generations, but in a dearth of conversions and a lack of focus.
One true conversion is more significant and consequential in the kingdom of God and for it, than are hundreds of church-users that know of no conversion.

A man once recounted being in the company of a minister who agonised mournfully over the fruitlessness of his ministry. This was the minister, as it turned out, among whose very sparse flock one Sunday sat a young man who came to faith through what he heard, encountered the living Christ through the word that preached him in judgment and grace – his name was George Muller (of Bristol orphanages fame; who never asked anyone for a penny, but lived by faith). One conversion, but with significance and consequence.

Dear friends, conversion is not to be blended out but sought. Because it is encounter with the living Christ through his word by the Spirit, by which faith becomes significant and consequential, because it pulls us off our own way unto his.
Let us not proclaim faith without the need for conversion, nor let us believe in Jesus Christ without turning to him in repentance and faith, so as to prove the significance and consequence of his death for our sins and his resurrection for our new life (way!).

  AMEN

 

Jn.20,19-31    Sunday 24th April 2022

Dear friends

It seems to me that what Thomas is doing when he refuses to believe the testimony of Jesus’ resurrection is not so much that he is doubting, but that he is objecting – objecting to having to see Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross as anything other than the end.
“You tell me”, he says to his fellow disciples, “that you have seen the Lord. And I tell you that I have seen him suffer and die; I have seen his end, the end of all that he was doing and was capable of doing. Do you not understand that nothing is left of what we had, of what we hoped for and hoped that God would do through him? By your talk of resurrection you’re asking me to accept that the end wasn’t really that! I refuse. I refuse in the name of all the good he has done in his life, of all that God has done through him, and which now has ended. Your talk of resurrection undermines the only thing that can matter now - his legacy and what we must do with it. Therefore I will not believe, and would only if I knew for sure that the one you claim has risen from the dead is the same as the one they pierced with nails and a spear as they put him to death on the cross!”

When Jesus overcomes this objection, he does it in just this way, demonstrating to Thomas that there is more than a legacy, that he is indeed the one that was crucified.
At this Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”, because he realises in this moment what he couldn’t before (sees what he couldn’t see before): That Jesus’ death was an act of the living God and the act of His love, not, as he thought, evil’s triumph over him; that the cross was not a sign of weakness and impotence as it appeared to human eyes and mind, but that it is “the power and wisdom of God”; that it did not put an end to Jesus’ career of doing good and making known God’s will, but that it was the culmination (!) of it; he realises that all he had seen Jesus do and heard him say did not point away from the cross as the end of it, but to the cross as its true fulfilment, to the cross as his proper work and the reason for his coming; he realises that Jesus’ death, in weakness and defeat, was in fact achieving God’s victory!

Now, that this realisation was not meant for Thomas only as a private insight, but was meant for all the disciples, is made clear by the fact that Jesus at his appearance “showed them his hands and his side”. Which he did, so that they should realise, and we too.

So let us ask, dear friends: Why does he want his disciples to realise this? Why does he remind them of his cross just as he is convincing them of his resurrection? The answer is: because it is key to understanding what he, as the risen One, says to his disciples regarding what comes next. And given that the church has a particular purpose – and it is good to wonder what that is – these words are of vital importance, for the church then as well as now. He says: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

What does he mean? Perhaps it is useful to say what he does not mean. Jesus is not saying: “I have done my bit, now it is over to you; go and figure out, with help from the Holy Spirit, how I might be sending you.” Were we to think so, Jesus would say to us what he says to Thomas: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
What he says to his disciples is that the Father’s sending of His Son, Christ Jesus, shall now proceed through them – this is the next step: the disciples are to participate in Jesus’ own sending, and so to ‘bring it home’.
You see, because Jesus has risen from the dead and lives, the disciples are not now facing the problem of how to carry on the vision and legacy of Jesus. No, they are being commandeered and equipped to carry out his sending – that through them he himself will carry on what his Father has sent him to do.
And as the cross is central to his sending by the Father, so the cross is central to his sending of the disciples! Through them what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and by his death, is to be offered and announced to all who believe as the way and means to life in his name according to God’s will.

Paul understood this sending as well as any of the other apostles when he said, 1Cor.2,2: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Or to the Galatians, Gal.3,1: “It was before our eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Or again when he says, 1Cor.1,18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Jesus’ words by which he puts to the disciples what they are sent to do are clear and concise, and they are given in a way that will make what they do an act of God like the cross was an act of God: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

It is by the forgiveness of sins, to be proclaimed by the disciples and to be proclaimed by the church, that God saves from death, sets life right with Himself, making it fit for purpose, fit for glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever.

Dear friends, the apostles certainly went on to do what they were sent to do, and it brought into being the church. And the church it brought into being was not just any church, it was one that sought to obey God because it saw in such obedience the fruit of faith: freedom from sin as the effect of the word of the cross.
Today, in marked difference, there are not a few churches and believers who think little and superficially of sin, whose notion of sin is such that the forgiveness of it is hardly the big deal it seems to be in the mind of Christ and on the cross, who don’t think that the unforgiven sin is, or should be considered to be, any serious problem, and who believe that sin is not something God really minds nor the world needs forgiven because it is under it. There is consequently little heat in the zeal to obey God (from the heart!) and little appetite for becoming aware of what sin is and what constitutes sin and how one is guilty before God, so that one might receive forgiveness.

But here the cross of Christ has become insignificant and the sending of the church is not what mainly it ought to be.

But the disciples were sent to forgive sins in the power of the Holy Spirit, thus applying the power and wisdom of God (!), because of the significance of Christ’s cross, which lay in the fact that he bore the punishment for our sin and overcame the penalty for sin that is death for our justification through his resurrection from the dead.

Dear friends, Jesus said on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!” Surely this prayer, offered with his own life, was heard. And forgiveness in his name since then and now is offered to all who believe, so that instead of not knowing what we are doing, in that we sin while thinking that we’re not, we may knowingly and with repentance turn to Christ and in him find grace and life, a living Saviour.

  AMEN

 

Sunday 30th January 2022, 4th Sunday after Epiphany , Garvald and Morham, Haddington West Church   

‘On hearing’

 
Grace be with you and peace from God, our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ

You must be renewed in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature created in God’s likeness. – Eph.4,23-24

 

Collect: Living God, in Christ you make all things new. Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives show forth your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

 

1 When to our world the Saviour came,
the sick and helpless heard His name;
and in their weakness longed to see
the healing Christ of Galilee.

2 That good physician! night and day
the people thronged about His way;
and wonder ran from soul to soul –
‘The touch of Christ has made us whole!’

3 His praises then were heard and sung
by opened ears and loosened tongue,
while lightened eyes could see and know
the healing Christ of long ago.

4 Of long ago: yet living still,
who died for us on Calvary’s hill;
who triumphed over cross and grave,
His healing hands stretched forth to save.

5 Those wounded hands are still the same,
and all who serve that saving name
may share today in Jesus’ plan –
the healing Christ of every man.

6 Then grant us, Lord, in this our day,
to hear the prayers the helpless pray;
give to us hearts their pain to share,
make of us hands to tend and care.

7 Make us Your hands! for Christ to live,
in prayer and service, swift to give;
till all the world rejoice to find
the healing Christ of all mankind.

Words by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Lk.4,21-30  ‘Jesus in Nazareth’

Dear friends

What do you do when you are somewhere with other people, conversing and chatting, or waiting and minding your own business, perhaps just standing and wondering, and you hear the words: “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please!”? Most likely, you stop your conversation, you put down your book, you lower your glass if you are in the middle of drinking, you might shift your position a bit and strive mentally to rise above any noise still left in the room: because you are getting yourself ready to hear the announcement about to be made (the announcement presumably which will tell you what you are there for!).

Well, it’s what we have here, in this passage of Jesus’ visit in Nazareth. His actions and words draw attention (like a voice saying over a tannoy: “Can I have your attention!”), and people ready themselves not to miss what’s coming next. But while we may readily understand that situation in such terms, it’s important we understand the spiritual significance of it: that the preaching of the gospel, because it is the witness to Jesus Christ and his ministry, is just such an announcement – that it is one for which we ought to stop our own conversations (!) because it opens up the one that tells us what we are here for, because it is the one which comes with the word of God who says “Can I have your attention please!”, which all ought to hear who have ears to hear.

You may ask, what reason do I have for saying this? Well, it’s here in the Word of God: in the extraordinary (because spiritually all-enlightening!) statement Jesus makes in v.20 - as the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him -: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ For, do you notice what Jesus is saying here? He is saying that the fulfilment of all that scripture says about the way in which Jesus is your concern according to God’s will, stands in your hearing; that the fulfilment of his ministry to you - your redemption, stands in your hearing; that the fulfilment of God’s saving word that is Jesus Christ, stands in your hearing.
That is: Jesus here elevates the activity of hearing to such a prominent place in the matter of faith, that the implication is that everything he has said and done is like the statement of God saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, can I have your attention”, because it is in one’s hearing that one is then able to receive all.

The Word of God through this passage speaks to us of the vital matter that is hearing.  Indeed, it is so vital that without hearing, if we look for real fruit of the ministry of Jesus, this ministry might as well almost not be happening (and the preaching of the gospel might as well almost not be happening, might as well almost be replaced by many another thing). In fact, Mark does tell us in his Gospel expressly that when he was in Nazareth, Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mk.6).

We understand the importance of asking: What then of this hearing that makes God’s Word come true / come through according to its promise, for those that hear?

At first it seems the people in Nazareth do hear. “He speaks well”, they say, “It is a pleasure to listen to him” “Yes, isn’t he great?” Yet there is something in their hearing that does not hear! And it’s this circumstance that Jesus brings to light. And how the mood changes when he does! What seemed to be embrace turns out to be no more than a light cover over a rage that is ready to kill.
Now by way of illustration, let me say that I am sometimes guilty of this kind of ‘hearing’ (I’m talking about the hearing, not the rage!) – when hearing I don’t hear! This guilt comes to light when I ask my wife about something she has only just told me and believes I have heard– yet it turns out that hearing I didn’t hear! But the point is that this is the kind of thing that goes on in the spiritual realm.

So we ask: what is this hearing that does not hear? [In biblical terms: What is it about our hearing that makes Jesus say repeatedly, ‘He who has ears, let him hear’?] The key is in the question the people in Nazareth ask themselves and one another, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here among us? Isn’t he of us? It is a rhetorical question, and therefore not one that is open to who Jesus is, to who is speaking, not open to what the weight of his word might actually be. In fact, their question is designed to size Jesus down to their own size.
Now what is going on? What is this saying? Not to be too long about it, it’s two things – two sides of one coin: The people there hear, but do so without believing the word; and also (the other side of the coin) they believe that they hear, but do so without hearing what the word says. These are both attitudes that prevent the kind of hearing through which God’s Word works such as to be fulfilled in those who hear.

Are these attitudes prevalent in us, in our church? This must appear in our encounter of the truth of Jesus Christ through Scripture.
Do we hear what God’s Word says without believing what it says, without believing whose word it is? Do we hear the word, but say, ‘It is of us!’ and refuse to hear what is not of us? Do we hear the word, but on the condition that it wears our outfit? Or do we believe, yet do so without listening to God’s Word, as though nothing stood to be fulfilled “in your hearing”?
There is a hearing without believing and a believing without hearing. And both is a condition of hearing-impairment towards God’s Word, towards the salvation He wants us to know and have.

In the examples he gives, Jesus colourfully draws attention to this and also to the fact that God’s Word is fulfilled both in judgment and salvation. The Word of God when it was withheld in judgment from Israel to show it that it was hearing without believing and believing without hearing, was sent to the widow in Zarephath, surely as a witness to the people of God; when this widow heard the words the prophet spoke to her she not only heard but also believed (she went and did what was asked of her) and she was saved; and it was sent to Naaman the Syrian who believed what he was told back in Syria and then, after doubting at first, heard the word of the prophet and listened and was saved.

Dear friends, Jesus was not got rid of on that day in Nazareth, because there was more for him to do. He had to make a way for God to reach the hearing-impaired and heal them. He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, to judgment and plague, to reclaim them for God’s purpose for them of love and truth. This way led him to be rejected and crucified and to his resurrection from the dead. But he thus became the fulfilment of God’s plan to save the lost and reclaim them from sin and death, for life and fellowship with Him, as He had announced through the prophets.
When some disciples after his death on the cross still did not comprehend, the risen Saviour said to them: “How foolish you are, and how slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk.24) And, dear friends, the Scriptures still bring us this Christ. He is the Word of God we are to hear and believe, to believe and hear. He is the Word of God that by hearing and believing fulfils in all the salvation of God.  AMEN

 

Lord God, by your Word we understand that all that is was made through your Word. By your Word, in those who hear, this your Word works your will. Your Word has become flesh in Jesus and has made you known. Glory by to you and praise for all your Word makes known and brings into being. In your mercy let your Word be received in us richly, make it known to us through your Spirit who guides into all truth. Let not your Word be to us judgment such that we hear your Word but do not believe, or believe in you but do not hear your Word. Out of our own we do not hear your Word. But you give ears to hear and you give understanding, and from you we seek it – to the praise and glory of your name. Amen

 

 

- take time to pray before God, in the name of Jesus Christ and with thanksgiving, all the concerns He has laid upon your heart

 

 

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen

 

 

May the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ shine in your hearts, transform your lives, and brighten the world.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you. AMEN