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.



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