Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Crib Service 24th of December 2011

Crib Service 24th of December 2011-12-23

Christmas, Christ-Mass, the Mass of Christ.  Just the word Christmas is fascinating.  The first part ‘Christ’ is obvious – a word that means ‘Messiah’ or ‘Saviour’ or at a pinch even ‘King’ but ultimately means Jesus, this little baby here, and all He came to do.  But the word Mass is more complicated, it doesn’t mean ‘weight’ like it does in science – this is not a celebration of how many pounds the baby Jesus weighed when He was born!  No it comes from the Latin word ‘Missa’ which means ‘to disMISS’ or ‘to go’  - it is the word used for sending out and has come to mean ‘MISSion,’ the spreading of the Good News of Christ Born human and crucified for our sins to other people when we leave this building.  So the word Christmas really means the event where we Christians are to go out into the world and tell the people about Jesus, about the Christ, it is the Mass of Christ.    But for how many of us is this a reality?  How many of us even think of speaking about Christ and His glorious mighty deeds that won our salvation to those around us, let alone to ourselves!

But what are we to say about this little baby born two thousand years ago – this little baby who was God Himself?  And of course before we can tell others about Jesus we must first know in our hearts what He has done for us, we must live each day before the Cross of Jesus and live the life He intended for us – not one filled with rules of do this and don’t do that but one of freedom, one of forgiveness, one of fellowship, and one of familial love where we treat everyone as our brothers and sisters. 

So who was Jesus?  Well he was born as a homeless refugee in a feeding trough because there was nowhere to live.  But He was also as the angels said, the Son of God, God Himself, Emmanuel – that is God with us.  There are not really the words to describe what a gift this baby was and is to the world.  It is generally true that the greatest gifts are the ones that cost the most, it may not be money it may be time to make or the emotion put into it, it is that giving of yourself that makes the gift so special, the sacrifice that goes with it.  Well what kind of sacrifice did God make for you?  The God who flung the stars into space, who created the universe from nothing, who sustains and keeps each one of us and this whole world in place, the God who is so much bigger and greater than we can even imagine, He gave up everything for you – He who is beyond having a physical body came down and was born of Mary, He who keeps all of us alive had to be fed milk by His Mother, He who created all that exists with but a word cries out for His mummy, for warmth and food and love, He who from the beginning of time had a plan for each of us poops His diaper because He can’t even control His own body.  He who is eternal, comes to earth and becomes mortal, comes to earth to die just as we do.  That to me sounds like some sacrifice!  Jesus is quite possibly the only person in history to have given more to other people on His Birthday than He Himself received!

And one thing that strikes me about this scene we see here is what Mary lays Jesus in – a manger, a feeding trough.  The wooden bowl from which the animals would eat.  I think we could all agree that one of the best things about Christmas is the gift of food, we all love Christmas dinner.  Whether we slave over it from six in the morning or we get up at midday roll out of bed to open some presents and then stuff our faces with turkey and potato and perhaps if adventurous even Brussels sprouts.   Food, along with Oxygen and water, is one of the few things that we absolutely need to live.  And Jesus was laid in a manger, earlier I asked what Jesus does for us – well His birth shows us one part of it – Jesus is the food of the world, Jesus is the only one who sustain us, the only one who we need if we are to grow, the only one from who we find the nourishment we need, the only one who can satisfy us humans.  From this tiny manger and this tiny baby is fed a world of over six billion people. 

Jesus when He grew up would say “I am the Bread of Life.  Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry! Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty…  I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats from this bread, they will live forever”  Earlier on Jesus had said to the woman at the well that “anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again.  No, the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age. 

Anyone who eats this bread will live forever… the water I give will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.  What is the gift Jesus gives us on His birthday? The gift we received two thousand years ago in Bethlehem at Christmas?  Eternal Life.  The gift of Eternal Life.   

And this was no off the cuff idea by God.  It may be hard to believe it but in the Old Testament Jesus, this tiny cute little baby, was known by another name – The Lord of Hosts – in French this is ‘Le chef de l'armée de l'Eternel’  The Chief of the Eternal Armies.  Jesus is the commander of the greatest army of all time, an army so powerful that one single soldier from it can wipe out an Assyrian army of fifty thousand men single handedly.   Now there is a Hollywood blockbuster just waiting to be made! When Jesus comes again it will be as this mighty warrior, this great King this commander of time and history.  And it is in this role that we see Jesus as the grand strategist.   The Grand Strategist of time and history and salvation. 

 I have often found that when it comes to Christmas planning is key, planning long, long, in advance what presents to buy for which people – getting them cheap in the post-Christmas sale, getting cards ready more than a day in advance…  Yes Christmas can be stressful with all the planning needed.  But Christmas was God’s plan from before the world was even made.  Christmas – Jesus – God coming down to earth to save us and feed us and grant us eternal life was always God’s plan, it was plan A plan Alpha right through to plan Omega.  God always loved us, always has done, God never punishes us, ever, because the debt for anything we might do wrong has been paid in Jesus.  Jesus comes to offer us eternal life.  And how do we grasp hold of this amazing bargain, this precious gift of eternal life?   “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”   Whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.

Just like in real life we need to actually go to the Christmas dinner table to eat and be fed and nourished so it is that to enter into the eternal kingdom of God which He offers us freely we need to accept that gift and go to the table and eat – we need to believe, and only believe.  This is not like Santa who is making a list and checking it twice He’s going to find out whose naughty or nice.  This like Jesus who says come one and all and be fed, have eternal life, I’ve come to earth for you because I love you and want to know you and give you everything, just believe in me and come into the warm.


Friday, 2 December 2011

1 Samuel 9.1-10 [15/11/2011]

1 Samuel 9.1-10

[This was my first ever sermon on an Old Testament passage and also my first time preaching in Wycliffe Hall Chapel]

Saul Chosen to Be King

9.1There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, ‘Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.’ 4He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, ‘Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.’ 6But he said to him, ‘There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honour. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.’ 7Then Saul replied to the boy, ‘But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?’8The boy answered Saul again, ‘Here, I have with me a quarter-shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.’ 9(Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) 10Saul said to the boy, ‘Good; come, let us go.’ So they went to the town where the man of God was.

          I believe in a big God.  A God so big, so wise, so powerful and so all knowing that nothing can stop Him.  I believe in a God who, as we said together, is the “Sovereign Lord, Ruler and Judge of all.”  I believe 2000 years ago God came to Earth, to this seemingly insignificant space rock in a vast, vast, universe, and people did see His face, His Glory, His Wisdom and His Power.  And it is knowing this God that allows me to rejoice in the gift of this new day, it is knowing God is so great, yet still, beyond all imagination, cares and loves someone like me, that sets my heart on fire with love for Him, Who whilst I was still a sinner came and met me in His Son and died for me. 

There are two things to take from the Old Testament reading we just heard and, with the full acceptance of those, a challenge. Firstly, we need a new vision of just how proactive in history and our lives God has been, a new and fresh vision of the provisions God has made.  Secondly, we need to see that all of these provisions were working toward the most important event in history, the death of Jesus which grants us, by Grace, a free and open relationship with God.

          One of the great things about Old Testament narrative is how it so often flows so well, it tells a compelling story; at least once you get past the lists of names.  But it is not only internally coherent: when you read the whole revelation as revealed in Scripture you see a God who knew what He was doing, a God who set up a history that was written act by act and scene by scene to fulfil His Divine Will.  Often it can be hard to see how something relates to the bigger picture, how it relates to Jesus the Messiah who saved us all, but it always does, because, to paraphrase the correct translation of Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb of God slain before all ages, from the foundation of the world – Jesus is plan A, always was and always will be, in fact He is plan Alpha, and plan Omega, and everything else in-between.  That all of history builds up to the coming Saviour is a work of artistic genius, which is hardly surprising seeing as history, and the Old Testament, were written by the Author of Salvation who through His Word spoke the universe into existence.

          In the reading we find a series of events which happen to just the right person, at just the right time, and in just the right place that he may be crowned king over Israel.  As we know, God doesn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of there being a human king ruling over His people.  And yet, God says at the end of the previous chapter “Listen to them and give them a king.”   This is where we need to take the wider view of history.  God has often used, and always planned to use, certain things to bring His people and the world to a point where the time was right for Him to come and reveal Himself in Jesus. 

As it says in Romans 5.6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME.”  This amazing revelation is found in the middle of an argument about the Law given to Moses.  Why was the Law given to Moses?  It was not that people may live in harmony with God under the Law – for God knew that was impossible.  As Paul makes clear the whole purpose of the Law was to reveal to us just how sinful we are and how powerless we are to save ourselves – the purpose of the Law was to show our need for Jesus.

And so it was with kingship.  Israel needed to have a king.  Why? Not because the people wanted one, not because Israel was under attack, but because of Jesus.   Israel needed to know that human kings fail, that they need a divine king to come and save them.  Before Jesus came there needed to be a messianic hope based on Davidic Kingship.  The people also needed to misunderstand the nature of the Messiah that He might be crucified, that He might not build by strength of arm an army to combat Imperial Rome, but rather build an army of saints to combat Satan Himself.  

          It is in light of this great picture that this story fits into place.  It just so happens that the donkey’s of Kish go missing.  It just so happens that this is at the time that Israel is calling for a king.  It just so happens that the donkeys head off in a particular direction.  In the time of Samuel losing your donkeys was not an amusing cliché but economic disaster, it could lead to hardship, loss, debt and starvation.  Often things in our lives seem to be going wrong, be going bad, we ask ‘how can this possibly fit with a divine and all powerful God who loves me.’  Such a thing is what many of us feel about the death of Jo from St. Aldates.  

But Scripture reveals some home truths for us.  Speaking prophetically of Jesus Christ Joseph declares right at the end of Genesis to his brothers “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then don’t be afraid I will provide for you and your children.” What an awesome message, what an awesome Good News - though we humans fail and try to harm God and one another Jesus used that very evil to bring about our salvation.

 St. Paul writes in one of the most challenging Scriptures: “we know that in ALL THINGS, God works for the good of those who love Him.”  ALL THINGS work together for your good.  The donkey’s of Kish going missing and bringing potential financial ruin upon him worked together for your good.  The tough things in life work together for your good even if you can’t see it at the time, know that God is Emmanuel, God is with you, God is FOR you and God knows what He is doing.

Now, the very reason all this needed to happen is seen in what occurs prior to Saul seeing Samuel – and seen in the contrast to how things work today.  The boy suggests Saul ask God about the donkeys, but there is a hitch, they have been searching for these donkeys for so long they have no food, no supplies, nothing to offer to the prophet that they might hear God’s revelation.  To hear what God has to say Saul couldn’t just get down on his sinful knees and pray, he had to pay a prophet to hear God’s word.  Thankfully this doesn’t really happen in the same way today, but if you feel moved by the Spirit to make a donation for this sermon then there will be an offering plate passed around shortly, no just kidding.  To those of us today who can just pick up a Bible and dive into God’s revelation, to those of us today who are justified at the Cross and can speak freely to God without the stain of sin in our hearts, the idea of paying to hear what God says seems preposterous. 

          So yet again, we see that the Author of life is doing something to point to something, or rather someone.  I find it fascinating that it just so happens that the boy has some silver coins with which to pay to hear the words of God.  Jump forward to the first century and we find something very different happening, here were find the religious leaders paying Judas with 30 pieces of silver to shut up not just God’s words to His people but the very Word of God Himself.  What a terrible turn of events, the man they wanted to crown the new Davidic king, the one they thought was the Messiah, the one who did miracles, they now pay to kill.  But as we know, it was in killing Him that we were to be saved. 

In all of history, never has 30 pieces of silver bought so much.  And what has it bought?  Well for one, we who by nature are Gentile sinners, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb, are made completely clean and given free access to come before the Holy God!  We no longer pay to know about God and what He wants, we know it because in Jesus He revealed Himself.  As the author of Hebrews puts it, summing up the history of salvation: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.”

I believe in a big God who was willing to sacrifice His life for me.  I believe in a big God who takes all the pain and suffering and lingering questions in my life and makes all things work together for my good.  Do you believe that this God, who so clearly has always acted in history, from making donkeys go astray to coming down in person to meet us, actually makes all things work together for your good?  Do we take hold of the gift of having The Holy Spirit constantly praying inside of us?  Do we take hold of the gift of having King Jesus interceding without ceasing for us?  Do we take hold of the gift of the Father who searches our hearts that He might do what is best for us?  Do we take hold of the gift of prayer, of a free relationship with God and rejoice each day about the great things God has done for us?  Do we each day come up with a new testimony to His greatness? 

Do we always, without fail, value the mercy and grace of God who allows us to address ourselves to the Eternal Father anywhere, anytime – not just in a mosque like Muslims?   Do we with happiness and excitement daily read God’s revelation and not have to pay for it like those in the so called ‘church of scientology’.  Do we daily know that when we pray Jesus hears us unlike the chunks of wood and stone worshipped by Hindus?  Do we daily have a personal relationship with the Divine King Jesus and not just a self-destroying philosophy of nothing like the Buddhists?  Do we truly grasp the great joy it is to be a follower of the one and only God who authored all of history, to be a follower of Christ, a Christian – and are we going to share this joy with everyone we meet?  Because it is only in Jesus anyone can know God and be saved.



Saturday, 19 November 2011

Matthew 21.33-46 [01/11/2001]

Matthew 21.33-46
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
   and it is amazing in our eyes”? 

43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.


      This parable is one of the most important and profound of all the parables given by Jesus. It has divided the opinions of scholars for centuries over who or what is the vineyard, who are the tenants and who are the ‘nations’ who will be brought in to take over whatever the vineyard is from whoever the tenants were.  These are of course important questions, they arguably deal with the place of Israel in the eyes of God, possible anti-Semitism or rather anti-Judaism, but these questions often lead to the Gospel message of the passage being nearly completely ignored, drowned out in an academic battle by people thousands of years removed from the event – an event some people in a appalling attempt to be PC try to insist never even happened.  If you want to discuss the future of ‘Israel’, or anything else then come and speak to me later this week, but for now let us look at what the text says, what Jesus proclaims – the Good News of our salvation and a loving God.       

          Now it is crystal clear that Jesus in this parable is conjuring up in the minds of the religious people the song of the vineyard in Isaiah 5 – infact the same Greek words and phrases are used.  Isaiah 5 describes God, the gardener of all living things, planting a vineyard and giving it all it would ever need, but it brings up thorns and sour grapes not good fruits, so God goes in and destroys the vineyard.  In verse 7 God proclaims that ‘Israel’ is the vineyard.  But the problem is that when we hear the word Israel our minds jump to a nation state less than a hundred years old in the Middle East.  In Isaiah’s time Israel usually meant the Northern Kingdom who had turned their backs on God and been destroyed, and what we would call Israel was known as Judah: you can easily see how misunderstandings begin!  So we have to ask, at the essence, what is Israel – as you may recall Israel is the name given to Jacob after he wrestles all night with God Himself, God revealed as a man – sound like anyone else who is God that you know? – and is thus given the name Israel for not letting go of God – Israel means ‘The one who strives with God.’  Israel is and always has been and always will be those who cling to God and never let go, Israel is the Church, the same Church that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, David  and Malachi were part of, the same Church Paul and Peter and Apollos were part of,the same Church Athanasius, Luther and Barth were part of – the kingdom of God, the people of God, the children of God justified and made so by faith and not works just as Abraham was: the same Church you are part of!  

So if the vineyard is the promise of God to be the Father of all who strive to know Him and never let go, if the vineyard is a relationship with God then who are the tenants?  Well in the time of Jesus God chose to make a relationship with Him come through obeying the Law He set down under Moses, it meant being part of a covenant pact that both sides promised to uphold.  At that time, preparing the way for Jesus to die and change it all, God limited Israel to those who were His people, who followed His Law and were thus promised that if they followed it they would bear fruit.  But the people, the religious leaders especially as they led the people, failed, they didn’t keep the Law at all, and if they thought they did they were liars and followed the Law in such a way that they made the whole thing pointless because they filled their hearts with pride.  And it is those people who knew God, but then rejected Him and all He had done for them that are the tenants. It was these people who killed the prophets, who made Elijah run for his life, who mocked Jeremiah and threw him in a pit to die, who murdered Zachariah and beheaded John the Baptist.

          The slaves God sent were the Prophets, the very people God placed His words in and sent to bring His people back to Him were the very ones His people killed.  So what was God to do?  Well imagine if you had built a house, or an office block, and filled it with top of the range fittings and furniture, even stocked all the cupboards full of food and put in some computers for people to work on.  And then you rented it out to some tenants, expecting rent to be paid in due course.  But when it comes to rent day, you find the cheque bounces, you find not money but a spiteful letter.  So you send your lawyer to the house with the legal agreement they signed promising in return for all you gave them that they would give you rent.  But when the lawyer knocks on the door, SMACK, he gets a punch in the face, blood runs down onto his nice expensive Italian suit (he was of course a professional dressed for the job, in ancient times prophets tended to wear rags, today if you look on TV at the so called modern day ‘prophets’ they all seem to wear expensive suits and horrible ties so lets stick with that image!), then they break his arm and kick him out sending him back to you.  When he gets back to you obviously you are going to be angry, but you wait a while and let things cool down hoping they will come to their senses.  And so you send another lawyer, this one even more expensive than the last.  He rocks up to the house, but almost before he can knock at the door they attack him, rough him up good and proper and then as he turns to head back to you they stab him in the spine and he dies there and then.  So in your kindness to them you send another – this one they kill using the very things you gave them in the house, the lamp stand, the TV, the coals off the fire. 

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were the landowner, the last thing I would ever, ever, ever do is send my one and only beloved Son to them.  It would be complete folly to do so.  And ironically this is the very thing that some academics claim proves this is not a real parable of Jesus because it is ridiculous that the land owner would send His son – well, that just makes them the tenants thrown out of the vineyard because as Paul says “the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to those being saved it is the power of God.”  The POWER of GOD.  I love that phrase, the POWER of God.  The power to do what?  The power to save everyone who ever lived from their sin and shame and suffering and nakedness.  God did send His Son, He sent Jesus, the very person telling this parable the very person who named Jacob Israel because he wouldn’t let go of Him, He sent Jesus and when He came they threw him outside of the house, and they insulted Him and mocked Him and scourged Him and beat Him and then they nailed Him hands and feet to a wooden cross and there He died saying aloud ‘Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’  It looks like the tenants have won.  Game over.

          So Jesus, the Son who in a few days would be crucified, asks the Religious folk what they would do – their answer is obvious, the Lord would send in the army and utterly massacre the whole lot of them and give the vineyard to people more worthy.  And to be honest, it is what I would do.  I can get and understand completely a God who after the killing of His Son would in wrath send down the Armies of Heaven and turn the planet into a bloodbath of vengeance.  The God who would send people to Hell for killing His Son, that I get.  ...  But God didn’t do that, God did something that just blows your mind, He had set up from before all ages the Lamb that was Slain to come and die for our sin and filth and rejection of God.  Jesus dying on the Cross was not plan B, or plan C, it was and always was plan A.  Because God is a God of love – and He gives it all that we might be saved and live with Him.

Then Jesus quotes a psalm to the religious leaders and proclaims that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  Now the corner stone was the foundation stone up which everything rested, the most important one to get right, the one which had to be perfect – and as we know only Jesus could be the cornerstone because only He is perfect.  The cornerstone is the one on which everything else rests; it is the beginning and foundation of the whole house.    And listen to this verse again “The stone", that is Jesus, "which the builders", that is the people who crucified Him, "rejected has become the cornerstone, THIS WAS THE LORDS DOING, and it is amazing in our eyes.”  Jesus dying on the Cross was the Lord’s doing, not the Pharisees, not the peoples, not the Romans, it was the Lord’s doing, it was going to happen before God even made the heavens and the earth.  And yes, it is amazing in our sight, what could be more amazing than a God who comes and dies to save us!  What could be more amazing and beyond rational imagination than a God who doesn’t just send sinners to Hell but in His Son offers them a place in His Kingdom, a God who says: "if you accept Him and repent and let the forgiveness I offer cleanse you, then I will make you not only citizens of my kingdom but very my sons and heirs."

          Here is the thing, here is why this is so relevant to us: you killed the Son. I killed the Son.  The blood of Jesus is on our hands.  For every time we sin we nailed Him to the Cross, every time we sin we give the reason He had to die.  His blood is on our hands – and it is like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare trying to wash the blood from her hands crying out as she scourges her skin ‘out damned spot out’ but nothing she does can remove it.  Nothing we do can wash away the blood of God from our hands.  Only God can do that, and that is why He died and rose again.  We have two choices, we can fall on Jesus and be broken, or we can wait and at the throne of judgement have Him come crashing down on us and grind us up like wheat into chaff and throw us into the fire.  Or, like I said, we can fall on Him now and be broken, we can offer to God the one thing He doesn’t despise – a broken and contrite heart – we can say to Him, Lord I have messed up please tidy up what I have done and unmess me.  We can accept it and say ‘King Jesus there is nothing I can do to make you love me more, I give you my life, all of it, I dismantle it all and start again with you as the cornerstone, I build my decisions, my choices, my actions, my hopes, my dreams, my desires, my loves, on you as the foundation, not on the sand where my life will at the end come crashing down but on the Rock of Ages my Redeemer who came and died for me.’

We can say ‘Not I but Christ’ and have Him rule our lives as we live constantly broken before the Cross that He might use us.  Or we can remain stiff necked and upright standing before the judgement seat of God.  If you want to inherit the Vineyard, all you have to do is recognise you are a sinner, recognise you can’t remove your sin, recognise Jesus is God crucified for you, and present your lives constantly in repentance before the Cross that you might be washed clean, ironically, in the Blood of the Lamb we killed, and rejoice in the amazing things He has done!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Luke 15.1-10 01/11/2011

Luke 15.1-10

15.1 All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming close to listen to Jesus.  2The Pharisees and the legal experts were grumbling. ‘This fellow receives sinners!’ they said. ‘He even eats with them!’
            3So Jesus told them this parable.  4’Supposing one of you has a hundred sheep,’ He said, ‘and you lose one of them.  What will you do?  Why, you’ll leave the ninety-nine out in the countryside, and you’ll go off looking for the lost one until you find it! 5And when you find it, you’ll be so happy – you’ll put it on your shoulders 6and come home, and you’ll call your friends and neighbours in. “Come and have a party!” you’ll say.  “Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!”
            7’Well, let me tell you: that’s how glad they will be in heaven over one sinner who repents – more than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.
            8’Or supposing a woman has ten drachmas and loses one of them.  What will she do?  Why she’ll light a lamp, and sweep the house, and hunt carefully until she finds it!  9And when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbours in.  “Come and have a party!” she’ll say.  “Celebrate with me!  I’ve found my lost coin!”
            10’Well, let me tell you: that’s how glad God’s angels feel when a single sinner repents.’

The topic of this talk is “The Kingdom of God is like a WITNESSING community.”  But to understand how to Witness we have to understand and be set on fire by the Man we testify about – King Jesus our God.  And that is why much of this time will be spent looking at the very real story seen in this parable that all of us are called to witness about to others.
This passage begins with sinners coming to Jesus and ends with sinners repenting.  It begins with people desperate to be found and ends with rejoicing in heaven over their coming home.  And this passage should speak to everyone who calls themselves a Christian.  I often find though that it is all too easy when dealing with parables not to truly grasp the fullness of the picture they paint. We read the parables in English, translated from the Greek, itself translating Jesus’ Aramaic.  We are removed from them by two thousand years, a million miles of culture, and what is generally a profoundly naïve post-modern world view.  Therefore, it is always, always, good to explore what Scripture tells us, what Jesus Himself reveals to us about His Kingdom, about Himself, and in relation to these, about ourselves.
I think it goes without saying that in the parable Jesus is the Shepherd – later in His ministry Jesus would even declare Himself to be the ‘Good Shepherd’ of His Father’s sheep.  That He portrays Himself as a Shepherd is no small thing – it is something poignant.  Looking at Christmas cards and pictures in children’s Bibles it is easy to get a rather romantic vision of Shepherds.  The reality was that they were social outcasts, at the bottom of the social ladder with only slaves, tax-collectors and sinners below them.  They lived year round outside without shelter. They lived largely alone with their sheep.  They would have been dirty, rugged, and always alert.   They were the opposite of the great Kings living in their palaces of gold and wearing purple robes, ruling over nations not sheep.  Yet when God chose to definitively reveal Himself in His Only Begotten Son, He revealed Himself as a Shepherd, a poor man with a passion for defending what is His, not as an Emperor ruling over countless slaves He doesn’t even know by name.
 Instead the Biblical God, the God we believe in is a God who knows, intimately, all we experience, all we feel and think, who knows each of us by name.  That is a Great God – that is my kind of God – a personal God who loves me, who loves each of you individually so much He would die for you – and the fact is that He did.   And this should not be taken for granted, we have to ask ourselves daily, is this truth of a personal God something which defines us, or has it become just a cold doctrine we profess belief in as we would profess belief in the existence of right angles?  Often the greatest enemy of the faith is apathy.
But if the Shepherd is Jesus, that leaves a rather disturbing association between us and sheep.  Now many people think that sheep are cute – well maybe as new born lambs – but when they are grown up and sheep, they are far from it.  Back home in Yorkshire I live next to a field full of sheep.  And trust me, living so close to sheep for so many years wipes away all picturesque illusions you might have about sheep.  Sheep for starters stink, they really do, sometimes you can smell them before you even see them – as you leave the house your eyebrows shoot up and you have to rush to the car to drive away as fast as you can!  Sheep are also just tedious, they are boring, I mean who seriously gets excited by sheep – besides of course the Welsh?  All they seem to do is eat, sleep and die.  Sheep don’t have awesome fangs, or cool talons, or amazing wings or special sonar night vision.  If they had a superpower it would be keeping warm – or overheating unless a Shepherd steps in to shear them. 

But if one thing were to epitomise sheep it would have to be stupidity.  Sheep are quite simply just thick and dull-witted, senseless and ignorant, self-obsessed idiots.  They cannot protect themselves except by bleating annoyingly, yet they insist time and time and time again on wandering away from their Shepherd, from their family and friends.  They get so easily distracted by this or that, by the newest shiny thing they see, by some pompous intellectual idea which in reality is just pointless, by the apple on the tree they were told not to eat.  But like I said, sheep are stupid, and they just cannot resist turning their backs on their loving Shepherd, walking away towards that fruit, towards death and sorrow and torment at the hands of something much bigger, darker, stronger and nastier than they are.
And here is the kicker – we, all of us here tonight, are stupid sheep.  It doesn’t matter if you are doing a PhD in speculative physics or a Masters in philosophy, it doesn’t matter if you are training for Christian ministry or hoping to be a lawyer – the simple and plain reality, seen lived out by all of us every single day, is that we are thick, we are idiots.  We are stupid.  And we naturally protest at this saying to ourselves ‘we are not stupid’ – but that just proves the point. We constantly, consciously, turn our backs on God our Shepherd, and we walk away from Him, and we get lost in a maze of sin and self-deception.  We know that He came and died for us, we know He loves us, we know He doesn’t want us to do the things we do, but still, against all true reason and logic, we sin.  And we invent all kinds of ridiculous ideas to try and justify ourselves – one of my old favourites, and shamefully I am often stupid enough still to use it, is that I am just “getting a better understanding of where people today are coming from” – NO! Just NO! Whether it is going into nightclubs and getting drunk, or watching pornography, or getting high, or participating in a séance, it is not getting a better understanding, it is not getting life experience, it is simply sin and we must name it and shame it as such.  
Whatever your personal vice may be that excuse is not justification it is stupidity.  For example, I know that trying to make excuses for my frustration - which overflows into biting and harsh words towards my loved ones - whatever the excuse may be, is not clever, it is stupid and pathetic– it doesn’t make sense now, and it will make even less sense before the Throne of King Jesus where all of us are destined to be judged.

Every time we sin, however small that sin might seem to be, we become lost in the wilderness, we cut ourselves off from full communion with God, we stifle the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and welcome in the spirit of the Flesh.  And the worst part is, that we are sheep, once we are lost, we are utterly and completely helpless.  We cannot see where to go, we are lost in the thickest darkness of a moonless night. We cannot move and run because we are caught and ensnared in the traps and devices of the Devil.  There is nothing we can do on our own terms, in our own power, through our own thinking and reasoning which can bring us even a millimetre, not even a single nanometre, closer to Jesus.  And because we are defenceless sheep it just becomes easier and easier and easier for the Evil One to commandeer our lives, it become so much easier to just carry on sinning, getting deeper and deeper into sin – deeper and deeper like a mouse swallowed by a snake slowly working its way down its body till nothing is left.

There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  And the parable of the lost coin makes this even more apparent – if I drop a coin on the floor, there is absolutely NOTHING that coin can do on its own power to make its own way back into my wallet.  The coin isn’t just stupid it is inanimate.
But, and here is the Good News we all must take to heart – even if the coin can do nothing, someone can pick up that coin and place it back in my wallet.  A sheep cannot work its own way back to the fold, but all it needs to do is stop trying, stop struggling to get there by itself, and cry out from the bottom of its heart.  All it needs to do it repent of having wandered off – and immediately it is scooped up onto the shoulders of the loving Shepherd.   Because, Jesus is there right besides us all the time, waiting patiently for us to stop squirming and struggling and pridefully refusing to let Him pick us up.  And when we repent of our sin we are scooped up onto His shoulders and carried home. 
And all of this glorious hope to which we are called to witness is made possible because 2000 years ago Jesus scooped up upon His shoulders a wooden cross, and he walked, in agonising pain, to the top of Calvary, the mount of our salvation, and there he was pierced for our transgressions, there our SIN, was put to death, there it was ended, it was finished, there we are forgiven completely.  Jesus carries the Cross just as He carries the stupid lost sheep – in fact on Calvary Jesus the Good Shepherd becomes the Jesus Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb of God takes on our stupidity, takes upon Himself every sin we commit, He becomes cursed for us that we might be saved.  

God didn’t sit on His thumbs up in heaven waiting for our deaths, but in mercy He came down and judged Himself in our place that we might have His perfect record when we appear before Him.   When we repent, we take up this record, and there is such joy in heaven – joy which human words could not describe.  When we repent we do not find Jesus sat upon a throne with a furrowed brow pointing a finger saying ‘I told you so’ or ‘You shouldn’t have done that’ but we see Jesus leaping from that throne and punching the air in joy and victory!  

God finds no joy in our boasting of good things but God rejoices in our repenting because that repentance allows Him to draw even closer to us – it allows Him to save us.  As the Pharisees said at the start of the reading – this fellow receives sinners – How right they were because God only receives people who recognise that they are sinners, because only then can He save them!  That saving Grace is the power and glory of God we bear witness to.
The parable of the lost sheep tells the story of the loving Good Shepherd.  But one of the sheep wanders off, gets lost in a dark place and becomes helpless.  But the Shepherd loves that sheep so much that He comes down into the dark valley in which the sheep is caught in the thorn bush, and when it cries to Him He picks it up upon His shoulders and brings it home.  And when He does, He rejoices, when He brings it home, even if it is seemingly the least of His sheep, He throws a massive party, He is crazy happy.  And as for the sheep – it is as if it had never wandered off, there is no punishment at all, the fact that it had ever wandered off is erased from history in the mind of the shepherd.  That is Grace, that is the amazing hope Christians have – complete forgiveness by God and complete fellowship with Him who came to save us.
And so, knowing this, let’s have a look at verse nine: ‘“when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbours in. “Come and have a party!” she’ll say.  “Celebrate with me!  I’ve found my lost coin!”’  Celebrate with me.  We are called to rejoice and celebrate every time a person repents – including ourselves.  God rejoices so we should rejoice – we should bear witness, with hearts ablaze, to God’s mercy, love, and very real excitement.

 So the question is: does the fact that God came to save you set your hearts on fire with love for Him, does the assurance of your salvation – an assurance that is only offered in the one truth faith, only offered in Christianity - fill you with a passion for His glory?  If it doesn’t then you have to ask yourself –why not?  Why doesn’t this mighty work of God bring joy to my lips?  Do I want this joy?  This assurance? This freedom which is freely offered to me?  These might seem like odd questions to ask a group of Christians taking time out of their lives to sit in fellowship beneath Christ’s word – but I can testify from my own experience and the experience of many others, that sometimes our faith becomes dry like scorched earth, sometimes it was never really our passion but merely our belief.  Isaiah had been a prophet for many years before He actually saw the Lord Jesus – have you seen the Lord Jesus, because truly seeing Him is to live with a heart on fire and a burning desire to share His love…
And if you already have this joy, this infectious and precious salvation, if you have felt the power of the Cross when you have repented, if you have felt the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, then you have to ask yourself a different question – how do I share this miracle of my salvation to every single person I know!?  When you look around the work place or the lab or the library and see all those sheep, lost and afraid, puffed up but in pain, destined for death and eternal torment, does your heart not pump with compassion for them and the question burns in you – how can I be a witness to my God’s Glory, how can I be a living testimony to the mercy and Grace of Jesus Christ.
 As Christians we are all bound, mind body and soul, to make disciples of all the nations, of all people – and when we know we were lost, but then were found, how can we possibly keep quiet, keep silent, about our Mighty God, our Mighty King – Jesus the Christ!  It is by sharing Him and what He has done in our lives, by sharing our amazing testimonies - and every testimony is an amazing one – and living a life visibly in His Grace and Goodness that we can bear witness to Him, that as a Kingdom of Priests we can share with others our Great God that they may come to be, with us and Him, in Heaven.

Friday, 14 October 2011


This sermon was written during a study week on 'death, dying, and bereavement' when we had to write a funeral sermon for one of a number of possible examples.  The one I chose was of a man named Peter Alcott who had died in a train accident.  He was an organ donor.  He left a wife and three children and the wife was concerned about supporting the family as it had always been Peter who was the 'bread winner' and she had stayed at home to raise the children and look after the house.  Besides name that was pretty much all the information given, so I had to fill our the story a bit more using my own imagination (of what I would have been told from the pre-funeral visits to the family.)


John 14.1-6

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled’ Jesus said.  “Trust God – and trust Me too! There is plenty of room to live in My Father’s house.  If that wasn’t the case, I’d have told you, wouldn’t I?  I’m going to get a place ready for you!  And if I do go and get a place ready for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you can be there, where I am.  And as to where I’m going – you know the way!”

“Actually, Master” said Thomas to Him “we don’t know where You’re going, so how can we know the way?”

“I am the Way” replied Jesus “and the Truth and the Life! Nobody comes to the Father except through me.”

          When tragedy strikes in our lives, we are left with a sudden and unexpected hole in our hearts.  When we try to put into words how it feels, our throats stop up till it actually hurts, our eyes grow tired from the tears, and the only thing we can do is weep, is cry for the loss we have suffered.  To lose a much loved husband, a greatly loved father, brings up emotions that no doctor can heal, no tablet remove.  It is good to weep over any loss, but especially one where you stand so helpless, having had no chance to care and prepare, no chance to even say goodbye.  But let us use this service here today to say goodbye to Peter, to reflect on the life he lived, celebrate the joy he brought to those who knew him, and come together as a family to mourn his passing, and remember the hope we have in Jesus.

          When I heard on the news about the train crash immediately my mind rushed, asking if anyone I knew was there.  We never expect such tragedy to affect us, to affect our homes and our lives.  But this is exactly what has happened with the death of Peter.  My heart and prayers go out to all of those who lost loved ones in that terrible disaster and I pray for the peace of King Jesus to come to those who mourn. 

Today we come together to remember Peter Alcott, taken from the world at the young age of 43, leaving his loving wife Sheila to protect her family at a time when finding jobs is hard enough.  Peter also left behind three children, Sharon, Kevin, and Hailey, who he loved with all his heart and who remember how everyday he would wake them before heading off to the City with a smile on his face and a kiss for their cheek.  They remember him as the loving dad who every Christmas dressed up as Santa– a sign of his irrepressible joy at giving to those he loved, and he loved none more so than his children.  Sharon spoke to me of the jokes he used to tell when times were tough, when darkness and gloom were close by - how we long to hear such a light hearted joke now, just one more time.  Kevin spoke of how last year his dad had taken the day off work, to take him fishing in the lake nearby their home – a time I am sure will never be forgotten.  And Hailey spoke of the way how he would always be there when needed, when work at school got tough, when people got her down, he was always there to listen, to help even though he had mountains of work to do himself.

          Peter was a giver, the kind of person who gives of themselves sacrificially.  Taking long, long, hours at work to provide for his family yet still being there for them.  Even in his death he gave something immensely precious – the gift of life to another.  Peter was an organ donor, and when he died his heart was given to a student who had been terribly wounded in an unprovoked knife attack.  Because of Peter this young man, Luke Oxley, has a long life to look forward to, because of Peter, Luke’s family are not facing the pain and immeasurable suffering those here today face.  Truly Peter’s unstoppable joy and unending love and sacrifice are something to not only to remember fondly, but to take hold of and celebrate, to take hold of and emulate.

         Two thousand years ago God came to this world; He took on our humanity, our frailty, our mortality, our emotions, our pains, our joys.  He came to earth and was known as Jesus the Saviour.  And in His death, God, Jesus, also gave sacrificially, He died on a Cross atop Calvary that we might live – died that we might live forever washed cleaner than clean, made whiter than snow in the eyes of God.  By dying for us here on earth, by dying for all the mistakes we have made, no matter how small or large, Jesus became the Way to eternal life, to eternal joy, to eternal peace with God.  And Jesus was the Truth, and that truth is simple – that God loves all of us more than we can possibly imagine.  This love is not a magic amulet that protects us from all pain and loss, it does not give the ability to never be sad or never to mourn, but it is a promise that God is here right now besides us in our grief.  He holds out His arms to hold us close, to tell us of a love that defeats even death itself, of a light that destroy all darkness.  All that we need to do is accept that the man Jesus, and only Jesus, not some philosophy or scientific theory, is the Truth that leads to eternal life.  And if we believe in Jesus, if we follow that highway of holiness that is Jesus, then we are given, freely the Life that is in Jesus.  Jesus died that we might live, that we might be saved from this broken world, and live forever with Him in a Kingdom with no pain or sorrow or death. 

          It is good and right to grieve, to mourn, and to weep, at the great loss of Peter; his family, his friends, and this church community shall deeply and surely miss him.  My prayers and sympathies go out to all who are in pain and are left lost because of this sudden tragedy.  But let us use this time to remind us of the frailty of this life, that we might live everyday to the full, that we might love and live in joy as we remember Peter doing, and we might take hold of the sacrifice of Jesus, the promise of eternal life and peace that is only found in Him.

Friday, 23 September 2011

John 20.19-29 [14/06/2011]


John 20.19-29

Jesus Appears to the Disciples

20.19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

These are powerful words, and there is a treasure trove of theology, grace, and wonder in these verses.  There is so much that could be said, so many questions – questions that I would encourage you to seek answers to in your own prayer and study.  Questions regarding whether or not this is in fact Pentecost?  Questions about the resurrection body of Jesus.  Questions about the declarations in Mark that Jesus will meet them in Galilee yet here it is in Jerusalem. 

          There are many questions, but I am not going to address those here.  I want to take this Scripture, understood as part of John’s testimony to the Gospel message, and ask what it means now for us, not what it means to scholars sitting around a table in a dark and locked room brooding over some largely irrelevant word in Greek or Hebrew whilst missing the elephant – or rather Lord God and Saviour - in the room. 

In these two stories John confronts us not only with the height and culmination of the Gospel’s teaching on the Holy Spirit and the Person of Jesus, but with what this means for us in our lives – what we are to go and do in light of this.   It is a challenge as much as it is a glorious affirmation of the True Faith.  So what are these teachings?  What are these challenges?

          Jesus first appears to the disciples in the locked room – a room locked for fear of the Jewish authorities who would be looking to round up the followers of the traitor to the Emperor who had just days before been crucified – this appearance contains many messages for us today.  Firstly there is the joy the disciples display when they see that their Lord – the one they love and followed, the one they also rejected and fled from, is alive.  Even though they had failed to grasp His promise of His resurrection He is there among them.   One constant challenge for us is to take hold of this Gospel joy and keep it within our hearts and allow it to transform us, to let nothing persuade that anything can separate us from the love of God.

And then Jesus speaks these words: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Recalling John 17.18 which says almost the exact same thing, we see here the great commission of John’s Gospel – we, the followers of Jesus, are sent into the world just as He was.

But what does this mean?  Well the next verses clear the picture – it is to do with the work of the Paraclete, the Advocate who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son.  Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples – the Greek here uses the same rare word for breathe that is found only in Genesis 2.8  with the creation of humanity, and in Ezekiel 37.9 which speaks of the resurrection, of a new creation, a new order and a new time.  It cannot be underestimated how much the giving of the Spirit changes everything for us – just as the Cross redeems us so the Spirit takes work of the Cross work within us and makes us righteous before God, it empowers us and purifies us, holds us and stands us up.  

Having breathed new life, a new creation, a new reality, into their very being, Jesus declares those controversial words “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  I am not going to enter into the Catholic / Protestant debate over this – but suffice to say that the Greek of all of this passage implies that it is still God who is the forgiver and retainer of sin, and also that this is not just a commission for the disciples present but for all who witness to Christ.

In John 16.11-17 we find written this promise concerning the work of the Spirit and our mission to the world: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when He comes, He will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see Me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Jesus sends us into the world just as He was sent into the world; we are to continue His mission.  But we can’t do this impossible task alone – and that is one of the reasons why we are sent the Holy Spirit.   In John 14.12 it is shown that part of this mission is that we are called to work wonders and signs just as Jesus did – something made possible because Jesus has been glorified and has gone to the Father.   And in Acts we see this – people are healed, people are convicted of sin, people prophesy, people speak in tongues, people speak in other languages, people are empowered to boldly proclaim the Cross to a world that sees it as folly and ignorance – and people are saved.  And I tell you that 2000 years has not changed that mission or that power we have through the Spirit one jot or one iota.

 In John 15.27 we are called on to testify to who Jesus is because we have walked with Him and know Him – we are called to testify Christ crucified in every aspect of our lives – and through this testimony Jesus Himself will be revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit, a promise made in John 16.7-11.    We are called by the Spirit to lay bare the true reality of the world, to lay bear sin, righteousness and judgement, and to manifest the glory of God, to be bearers of the fruits of Christ’s victory, to proclaim boldly that Salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone, and to manifest signs as a witness to this just as Jesus did.

And what of the story of Thomas – so often named ‘doubting Thomas’?  Just as the previous story holds the climax of the work of the Spirit in John, so here we find Thomas making a statement that is the climax of the Christology of John.  But before he does this there is the insidious doubt, a demand for what the disciples claim to have themselves seen to be proved on his own terms, by his own measure of evidence – not only seeing Jesus with His wounds but physically feeling them to be as empirically sure as possible. 

And when he is faced with the resurrected Messiah Thomas declares those famous words – “My LORD and my GOD!”  Enough cannot be said of these words.  Thomas declares Jesus to be the LORD – a word that here is without doubt a reference to the Divine Name given to Moses on Sinai, a word the Jews and Greeks preferred to translate , or rather simply replace, with the words ‘the LORD.’  Thomas is saying ‘my YAHWEH my God.’  Nowhere else in the Gospels is Jesus directly proclaimed like this to be THEOS, to be GOD.  We hear that the Word was with God and the Word was what God was, we hear that Jesus and the Father are one, we hear Jesus proclaim the great I AM sayings – before Abraham was I AM – and of course I AM is what YAHWEH means!  But here a human recognises Jesus for all that He is – my YAHWEH and my GOD!

And what did this mean for Thomas and the disciples?  Well just look at the growth of the Church once they held this firm conviction over all areas of their lives.  Perhaps one of the strongest Ancient Church Traditions, and by that I mean it is almost certainly true, is that Thomas went from here to proclaim Christ as Lord, God and Saviour, right through to India where he was martyred for his bold proclaiming of Christ crucified.  Even today the church he founded – the Mar Thoma Church – remains, indeed when the Catholics came to India with the Portuguese  in the 19th century they were so startled to find Christians – Christians who did not recognise the authority of the Pope that they eventually reasoned that it must have been the work of Satan and began to persecute, torture, and even simply murder these Christians! 

The Power the life of Thomas testifies to is the power of the firm conviction that Jesus is Lord and God – the power given through the Spirit to go to the ends of the earth in the name of Christ and even stand firm to the point of death.  Whatever Thomas was before this point – a doubter, a man requiring hard physical, academic, verifiable evidence, a loyal yet pessimistic and perhaps somewhat dull-witted disciple (as seen in John 11 and 14) - this truth, once he embraced it and truly believed it and allowed it to rule over his life, led to exactly the continuing of Jesus’ mission that we are called to.

But we do not have Jesus present to make us believe, we are blessed with believing without being able to see the wounds He bore in person.  We have the Scriptures which testify to Him, we have fellow brothers and sisters, fellow disciples, who proclaim they know the Lord and experience His salvation, and we see how this changes their lives, the gifts God gives them, if we look we even see signs and wonders, prophesy, healing, divine gifting of wisdom and leadership, and even speaking in others languages – and are told we can have these ourselves! 

The challenge for us, and the last point made there is one I often struggle with, is to simply believe without seeing the Lord Himself.   To let Him be Lord over all our life, to be completely unashamed of the Gospel and of Jesus Christ even though we have not seen the One we proclaim.  And in light of what Charlie was saying on Sunday, on Pentecost, the challenge is to believe that these gifts exist today, and they exist for us, God wants us to have them, not everyone will speak in tongues, not everyone will prophesy, not everyone will lead churches, but God loves to lavish His gifts on us – if only we believe in them and importantly in His promises to give them.  We have to believe that Jesus breathes the Spirit upon us and this empowers us to testify to His Lordship to everyone we know, to proclaim Christ crucified in everything we do, be it work, rest, play, fellowship, or worship.   We have to boldly ask, seek with perseverance, and knock with all our heart, and then we will be given.  We have to believe that Christ died for us and He has been glorified, and the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, has indeed been sent that we might proclaim Christ to be the one and only Saviour to the World.

That is our challenge.  That is the challenge of every single disciple of Jesus.

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