Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Holy Spirit in Creation and new creation (Genesis 1:1-3, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Galatians 5:22-25)


I used to spend a lot of my spare time out bodyboarding. Surfing lying down basically, surfing for the uncoordinated… but not necessarily unbalanced.  That meant you’d spend quite a bit of time sitting in the water a couple of hundred meters off shore waiting for the next wave.  One of the most amazing things when we were in the Bay of Plenty and in the Hawkes Bay were the Gannets. They would circle and circle, high in the sky, effortlessly and then suddenly their wings would fold back and they would dive straight down into the water after a fish, just a flash of white and gold then Splash! Other times as a wave rose and began to crest and you were paddling out to catch it, along the wave would come a Gannet, gracefully gliding across the face of the wave, ridding the air flow pushed up in front of it, with just the tip of its wing touching the water. Spectacular and beautiful.

That is some of the images that play in my mind as I read the first few verses of the creation narrative in Genesis and it talks of the Spirit of God, hovering over the waters, over the formless earth waiting for God to speak and for it all to come into being.

Today we are starting a series of sermons looking at the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. It’s going to be a journey from the spirit of God hovering over the water in Genesis to the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel chapter 2 that God would pour out his Spirit on all people, which was fulfilled at Pentecost and is the reality we live in, in our Christian walk today. We are God’s Spirited people, he has poured out his Spirit on us. We are called to be filled with The Holy Spirit.

I want to start with just a brief introduction to this series… This is the fifth Pentecost series I’ve preached here at St Peter’s, looking at what the scriptures say about the Holy Spirit. It’s important to do this because of two things.  The church suffers from insufficient teaching on the Holy Spirit; so we see it is an add on in our creeds and statements of faith, all this stuff about God and Jesus oh and we believe the Holy Spirit, and we can think that instead of being important and central to our faith and life that it’s an add on, an optional extra for the super spiritual, kind of like leather upholstery in a car, rather than God’s very presence and power in our lives. Secondly as a church we also suffer from over teaching on the Holy Spirit. But we’ve kind of left to others to do, so we equate it with the excesses of the more out there fringe elements, the chandelier swingers, show men and charlatans, and because of that we can get put off encountering and knowing and living  our faith by the Spirit moving in our lives.   

We are looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, because it’s easy to think that the Holy Spirit simply pops up at Pentecost, or maybe just starts hanging round in Jesus life. But the Holy Spirit is how God has been active in the world from the beginning. It is how God has spoken and directed his people, redeemed, enabled and equipped them. We often don’t notice it in the Old Testament because it is hidden in words and metaphors, for example around the time of the exile the hand of God is a popular way of expressing the Presence and working of the Holy Spirit… by looking at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament it allows us to have a good basic understanding of the Spirit, see how Jesus had made a difference and look at the Spirits work in our own lives.  We are going to do some theology, some biblical study and hopefully allow ourselves to be open more to the Spirit’s presence and moving.

I am going to start this series at the beginning, and if you don’t mind me quoting Julie Andrews ‘that’s a very good place to start’. In the creation story in Genesis chapter one we see that after God had created the universe and all that is in it, we are told that the Spirit of god hovered over the formless waters. It’s not a full blown trinitarian statement, but it tells us that God’s Spirit or what we know as the Holy Spirit was present at the beginning and involved in God’s creation process.

That calls us to do some theology… The question is often asked what or who is the Holy Spirit and the short answer is that the Holy Spirit is God, part of the triune God who has revealed God’s self to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see the Spirit there in the beginning, as the Holy Spirit is God and shares with God the attribute of being eternal, without beginning or end. The Holy Spirit shares with God the attribute of creation as well. The prelude to John’s gospel tells us that the word, which he latter identifies with Jesus was with God in the beginning and bought everything into being.  The whole of the Godhead is involved in creation.  Now it’s hard to use a metaphor to explain the trinity without falling somehow into one or other error of doctrine. But let me use the idea of speech as a way of explaining that. As genesis tells us that God said and it came into being. When I say something, there is the idea and purpose that comes out of my mouth, then there are the words that conveys that idea constructs it and finally if you were to somehow see the disturbance in the air you could see how those words are carried into reality by sound waves. It’s not perfect, but it gives us a way of being able to think of the triune God speaking forth creation. The point I want to reiterate is that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the God head. When we come to the new testament epistles we will often see Paul speaking about such things as salvation or sanctification, that is our being made mature in Christ, and we see that he will speak of the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit being involved in those actions. 

The other thing we see from this Genesis story is that the Holy Spirit is the means by which God is active in his creation. This is not as I keep on saying a distant disinterested deity but a God who is present and work in his creation in history. God works out God purposes and plans through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word that we’ve been translating hovering can also have the connotation of the Spirit of God stirring the waters. Stirring them up.   It is a picture like our gannet or more biblically like a mother eagle in Deuteronomy 32:11 God talks of his care for Israel like being an eagle that stirs up its nest, to push its young out to learn to fly and then hovers over them and will not let them fall, but will catch them before they fall to the ground and bear them up. It is very much the picture of God’s Holy Spirit at work in Human history.

I’m about to go splash like those gannets and go off the deep end here. What science observes as natural selection and animals adapting can also be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit, as God’s providence. In psalm 106 it talks of God making environments for each animal to enjoy and flourish in, and I believe part of that is that God shapes animals for the different environments they live in. It does not stop it being a natural process, I’m not anti-science I’m pro God’s providential grace. 

As we journey through the whole of the sweep of scripture we see God at work in history by the Holy Spirit, the calling of Abraham, the way in which joseph says that while his brothers had sold him into slavery God was able to use that for good. Moses encounters God at the burning bush and is told to go into Egypt. Leaders are raised up Kings anointed prophets sent to speak God’s word. In Isaiah we see it on an even bigger scale as Darius the Persian king is spoken of as God’s servant, the rise and fall of empires, God’s spirit at work. Around the life of Jesus and then the life of the church. In the book of ACTS there is a pattern of the church settling down and being happy where it is at, in Jerusalem doing very well thank you, 3000 converts one week and 5000 the next, but they are not fulfilling Jesus commission of going and being witnesses to Samaria and to the ends of the earth persecution is stirred up and the people go out, the church does not fall but it learns to fly, you can see it repeated and again. This year marks the 500th year of the reformation, you can see the spirit at work there too, stirring up a reemphasis on the saving work of Jesus Christ. God is still stirring up the church in our own time. In the face of secularism in the west we are being challenged and called back to what is real and important. We are being asked to move from being comfortable in our society to being uncomfortable and concerned again with the least and the lost, not to enjoy the favour of our society but to add some salt and flavour.

Even in our own lives we can look back and see how God has been at work by his Holy Spirit in the way things have happened, maybe you have those aha moments when you recognise God’s hand at work, as we’ll see later God’s hand is another way of talking of the Holy Spirit.

Now it would be easy to think perhaps that the Holy Spirit is like some force. Like the idea of the force that Star Wars popularised, which is just a reimagining of a pagan idea of a impersonal spirit or force at work in the universe. But that is not the case. Our God is a personal God, sentient and knowable. As we move through scripture we can see that we can know the Holy Spirit, we can have a relationship with the Spirit, in our passage we had read from the book of Galatians the Christian life is describes as a process of us walking with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leading and guiding us, revealing the scriptures to us.

I want to pull that involvement of the Holy Spirit in creation and in God’s providence out of the realms of theory and theology to how it works its self out in our lives today. Yes the Holy Spirit is how God moves on a large world stage but also it is how God works in your life day to day.

You see Jesus has made all the difference and as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians you and I are new creation, because of Christ’s life and death and resurrection. John’s gospel starts with Jesus involvement in creation and his narrative of the resurrection brings out the idea of new creation when it starts on the first day in the garden. The reality is that God is renewing his creation through Jesus Christ. As we have been forgiven of our sins our old life has gone and we are made new. But as we saw in creation the whole of the God head is involved in this new creation.  

In the passage we had read from Galatians we see that in the fact that as we allow the Spirit to work in our life, open up the scriptures and apply them to our lives, draw us into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, convict of wrong doings and help us to live different lives that new creation is taking shape.  It bears fruit in our lives fruit that is love, patience, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, gentleness and self-control. The shape of this new creation in us is Jesus shaped fruit, Jesus flavoured fruit. Through that and having that lived out as more and more people come to know Jesus Christ and are filled with God’s Spirit we will see creation transformed as well.

We’ve seen what Genesis has to say about God the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is involved in creation, history, our story and our new creation. The Key difference as we will see a we continue in our exploration of the Holy Spirit in the Old testament is that the Spirit moves from hovering over to being poured out on all. It easy for us perhaps to think of God’s Spirit out there somewhere hovering over, we may realise that God is not distant disinterested but that is how we like to think of the Spirit. Like with the gannets at the beach we can admire the beauty and splendour and gracefulness of their flight, out there beyond the break, but the wonderful reality is that Jesus Christ has made it possible for The Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to fill us with the presence and power of God, that is the new life in Christ, the new creation we are part of. My hope as we move on in this series is that you may know that presence more and more in your life and walk with the spirit. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

On the Cross Road: Jesus Journey to Jerusalem (Luke chapters 10-19) and what it has to say to us as his followers (An Index)

For most of the past year I have been working through a sermon series on the narrative of Jesus final journey to Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel. It is a journey which takes up the central third of the gospel in the telling (ch10-19) and one that focuses on Jesus teaching on what it means to be his follower. It is a series that has taken up the most part of a year (30 weeks) with time off for good behaviour! actually for a few other series. Our season of creation and prayer, advent and a well deserved summer holiday for me.

This is simply an index, so folk (If they so wish) can go back and find those sermons on my blog.

Luke 10:1-24- A Missional Road
Luke 10:24-37 compassion on the way to eternal life
Luke 10: 38-42 listening our way forward on the cross road
Luke 11:1-13 the prayerful pathway
Luke 11:14-32 coping with conflict on the cross road
Luke 11:33-53 woeful potholes and pitfalls on the cross road
Luke 12: 1-12 courage and trust on the cross road
Luke 12: 13-34 facing down worry on the cross road
Luke 12:35-48 be ready, live ready keep on keeping on the cross road
Luke 13: 49-59 fire and accounting for the weather on the cross road
Luke 13:1-9 Fig-uring out repentance of the cross road
Luke 13:10-21 Mustard Seeds, the kingdom of God and set free on... Sunday
Luke 13:22-25 small numbers and insurmountable odds
Luke 14:1-14 seating arrangements and the kingdom of God
Luke 14:15-24 God's big hearted banquet
Luke 14:25-35 the cost of discipleship
Luke 15:1-10 The lost sheep and the lost coin
Luke 15: 11- 34 The Lost Son
Luke 16:1-13 managing grace
Luke 16:14-31 generosity and Grace at the gate
Luke 17:1-1o Increase our faith, give us a mustard seed faith
Luke 17:17-19 Your faith has made you well
Luke 17:21-37 a ready steady faith in light of future hope
Luke 18:1-8 Just prayer results in perseverance of faith
Luke 18: 9-17 Who are you trying to kid and kids around Jesus
Luke 18:18-34 mission impossible: the eye of the needle and the cross
Luke 18:35-43 19:1-9 to seek and save the lost: The blind beggar and the short tax collector
Luke 19: 9-27 investing in the Kingdom of God
Luke 19:28-48 The king on a borrowed donkey

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Friday... Good Grief (Mark 15:21-47)


The term ‘good grief’ seems to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, how can that keen mental suffering or distress caused by affliction and loss, be Good?  Yes, it is the natural process we go through when we lose someone or something that we love, it’s a natural reaction, a hard one to go through, with sharp sorrow, full of regret, anger, dark fields of depression, watered with tears where we feel alone and abandoned. It’s the process we must go through to come to terms with the fact that someone has gone, that things have changed, and it will never be the same, but we must go on. It can be a healthy process, as we make that adjustment well, as well as we can, or an unhealthy one, where you can find yourselves stuck at some point in the grief cycle, unable to break free; break through. I don’t think you can call it Good.


‘Good grief’ has stuck in the shared psyche of my generation because of its use by Charles Shultz’s beloved cartoon character ‘Charlie Brown’… ‘Good grief, Charlie Brown’.  In the urban Dictionary, it is defined as an expression of dismay, of surprise and shock, disbelief even.  “good grief, I can’t believe he just did that.”


‘Good grief’ comes to my mind as I focus on the events that we remember on Good Friday, that we had read to us from the gospel of Mark: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. As a child the first sermon I was ever aware of listening to was a good Friday sermon, where the preacher talked of Jesus death as an example of Good Grief…and it’s always stuck in my mind.  At a deeper level, some say that the phrase ‘Good Grief’ comes from a time when there was still a sensitivity of using religious language in every day usage, particularly as an expletive or reaction. Good grief they said was the polite way of saying Good God or Good Lord, and that came from a shortening of the liturgical response ‘Good Lord, deliver us’, ‘Good God, save us!’ At the Cross we do indeed meet Good Grief: A good God who saves us.

At the Cross we encounter Good Grief…

As we had it read out from Mark’s gospel today we see the cross as a scene full of pain, suffering and sorrow. Simon the Cyrene is forced to carry the cross beam to which Jesus is to be nailed presumably because he is too weak from the beatings he has taken to do it himself. He is taken up onto a hill called Golgotha or the scull, a description of a round hill with no vegetation on top, that would have been beside the road into Jerusalem. He is nailed to that cross and it is lifted upright and put in place. So he can be displayed to all  by the Roman’s as a show of what this regime does to anyone who breaks the law or is even accused of standing against them. Rome has won again.

We often talk of insults and criticism as giving someone grief, and Mark’s account of the crucifixion focuses on Jesus being given grief. Passers-by, the chief priests and teachers of the law, and those crucified with him mock him. ‘he said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days’, ‘he said he could save others, he can’t even save himself’, come down, conform to our understanding of God’s messiah, then we will see and believe’. Pilate's taunt to the religious leaders who had bought him into this whole sordid affair… nailed above Jesus the Words ‘King of the Jews’ this is what will happen to anyone who considers rising against Roman rule.


The Grief of those who had been with him as they stand at a distance and see what is happening. Mark notes it is the women who had been with Jesus in Galilee, the disciples are nowhere to be seen, we know from John’s account that he was there as was Jesus mother, but mark and his source may only have noticed the women standing at a distance. Women who in Israel’s history in world history are  the ones who carry the brunt of grief and sorrow in the face of our inhumanity.

There is the grief and anguish in the only words that Mark records Jesus saying on the cross. Spoken in Jesus native Aramaic ‘Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”  which means ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me’. In this hour in this place of pain and death Jesus identifies with the depth of human suffering.  It’s not a   statement of doubt, it is the first words of Psalm 22 which is a messianic psalm which is full of verses that point to the cross, a psalm that is also one of deep trust and faith. Jesus cry is still to ‘My God’ an acknowledgement of faith and trust and relationship. R Alan Cole helps us to unpack one possibility of what is happening here when he wrote:

“if there was a barrier between the Father and the Son at that moment, it could only be because of sin, the son knew no sin, so it could only be our sin that cost him such agony. Here is the heart of the cross here is the mystery which no painting or sculpture, with distorted face, can ever begin to show, because we fail to realise the true nature of punishment for sin, as separation from God, and therefore the true nature and depth of the agony borne by him.”

This agony this sense of abandonment is reflected in the sky turning dark for three hours.

Finally, there is grief because of death. Jesus dies, and as this is the day of preparation for the sabbath and Passover the authorities allow Jesus to be taken down and buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea. The women follow along and they see where Jesus is laid as they will want to come back and make sure he receives the correct treatment in death that he did no receive in life.

At the Cross we encounter Good Grief, and we’ve looked at the grief but how can this be Good?

There is the grief of a Roman execution using a most torturous and violent vile method, but all the way through this there is another narrative being written, another reality playing out. Unlike in Matthew and Luke, it is not pointed out to us so blatantly.  It’s is God’s plan and purpose, Jesus use of the open line of Psalm 22 invites us to see what is happening through its prophetic lens. The guards we are told sitting down and gambling over his clothes foretold. The jar of wine being offered to him foretold, the mockery and taunting, foretold. Scripture witnesses to the fact that God not Caesar, God not the religious authorities and their plans and scheme is in control. This is not a ignominious end to a good teacher, rather it is God at work. Instead of a defeat Mark paints it as a coronation, Pilate's words more true than he could imagine, here is Jesus the king of the Jews… It is a Roman centurion who provides Mark’s narrative with its high point. When by some divine revelation he sees what is going on and realises ‘surely this man was God’s son’.

In a deep irony, the grief that was thrown at Jesus tells the story of what is happening here. They meant is as mockery, but rather in it is deep truth. This is how Jesus planned to tear down the temple and build it again in three days.  Relationship with God was no longer going to be though a building and sacrificial system, but was going to be made possible by the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. By not coming down from the cross, by not saving himself, rather trusting in God, Jesus was going to save many others. It was his death taking the punishment for what we had done wrong, that would enable us to be forgiven and set free. Jesus was God’s messiah and king and this is the way he was going usher in God’s kingdom. Not by some superhuman act but by as Philippians 2 puts it being obedient unto death, even death on a cross, because of that God would raise him up. It was not going to be that we may see and then believe that the high priests demanded rather it is by grace, and faith in Jesus that we will be able to see.

The women who stand off at a distance and weep, who follow to see where Jesus is buried are not left in their grief and sorrow, rather they are changed into witnesses, able to tell of what they have seen and spoiler alert they are the ones who have the great privilege of being the first to witness Jesus resurrection and to bear witness to the fact “he is risen, he is risen indeed’.

It is Good because ‘God has not abandoned us’, Jesus took on the pain we encounter and the deep separation from God, so that we may come to know God intimately as our loving father. So many people wrestle with understanding what Jesus did on the Cross, the various theories of atonement, but in Marks gospel there is one symbolic act which shows the reality of what Jesus achieved. As he died mark tells us the curtain in the temple was torn in two. The curtain in the temple was hung in front of the holy of holy’s the place where Jewish people believed held the very presence of God. It was only entered once a year by a high priest and only after many sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. It symbolised the very real chasm between sinful broken humans and a holy God. But now God was no longer going to be with his people in this special place. The barrier between us and God is removed. The temple and sacrificial system was no longer needed, as in his death and resurrection, Jesus had made the way for us to come to know God. It is putting our trust in Jesus that we can come to know God, that we are able to have a clean and fresh start and be reconciled with God and with one another.

Finally, it is good grief because the Story does not end as the stone is rolled across the mouth of a borrowed tomb. It does not finish with the women and Joseph marking where Jesus is laid so they can make it the focus for memory, future mourning or even veneration. … it is Friday but Sunday is coming. We have Good grief because at the Cross we meet the Good God, who raised Jesus to life again. We can have new and abundant life lived in relationship with God because Jesus is raised from the dead. Death and sin are defeated. It is the wondrous truth that Jesus death and resurrection makes new life possible. We started our exploration of good grief by talking of Simon the Cyrene being forced into service to carry Jesus Cross, and even in that small detail we see how these events can change people’s lives, as we are told that Simon's sons Rufus and Alexander are known to the church. If Mark was written in Rome then this could be Rufus who is talked of as a leader in that church in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

It is Good Grief because it is the starting point of lives down through the last two thousand years that have been changed and transformed. This year we are marking the 500th year of the reformation, the re-centering of the Christian faith on the wonderful truth that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. It is the hope that you and I have, the new life we share.
The term Good Grief may seem an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. But I would pray this Easter you may know the reality of Good grief in your life. Grief is the process by which we deal with the loss of a loved one or a significant part of our life.  The Good Grief of the Cross, is the process by which we allow Jesus death to change how we live. We come to him aware of all we have done wrong, we thank him for dying in our place, and ask him to forgive us, and acknowledge him as our Lord and saviour. That is Good grief that leads to new life. We can know Good Grief.. A good God who Saves us. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What love is this? a reprise of a good friday poem/prayer



In about 2003 I wrote this reflection for a Good Friday Service. I've dragged it out and used a few times over the years. But it needed a bit of a re-write.  the refrain what love is this has been cut and I've rewritten the last stanza thingy without reference to the Stuart Townsend hymn "How deep the fathers love". What love is this is a favourite line from a worship song 'Glory' from the band 'Form' which starts off as a normal praise and worship clique  song, but then its as if the songwriter is surprised by the reality of the presence and love of God... his only response is to sing 'glory'.

Unlooked for

Undeserved

Freely Given

You O God reached down into our humanity

Even into the darkness of our inhumanity

With the light of your great Love





Not clutching divine nature

Become a servant

Humble and meek

Obedient even to death

Jesus, who befriended the outcast

Healed the blind, the lame and cared for the poor

Taught and showed what our heavenly father is like




Betrayed

Innocent yet condemned

Beaten and tortured

The sovereign king receives a crown of thorns

The welcoming outstretched hands nailed to a cross

Hope mocked and spat upon





Gasping for breath

Excruciating pain

Dying

We thought him stricken by God, cursed

Yet it was our iniquity, our wrong that he carried

In his death we have freedom and life






Side pieced

Buried in a tomb

Stone sealed

Beyond our ability to understand you have done it

Paid the price for us and invited us in,

What love is this can any grave hold it down?





What love is this?

Stone rolled away

Hope rekindled

Alive again, risen for the grave

Clean slate, new life and wholeness

Thank you O God for a love like this

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If the stones cried out... I wonder what they'd say? ( an instillation for Palm Sunday).

'If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say?' This was my unlikely reflection leading into Palm Sunday. I started to write my typical flowery prayer but decided it might be better to invite people to voice (or at least write) their own prayers of thanks using rocks and chalk...

If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say.
Would they recognize their creator in Jesus voice and presence. That he spoke them into being amidst the immense pressure of  earth cooling and volcanic fire and tectonic drift. Would they speak of the grace of God they had seen over the centuries, his hand with his people, the feet of prophets bringing God's word, the passing of kings anointed to serve, would they tell that this one was different, that our hope and theirs was in the new Creation he would bring. In forgiveness and freedom that would come from his blood spilt on them. Would they know of a stone that would be rolled away in Resurrection's victory dawn.

If the stones cried out I wonder what they'd say.
Well we will never know, the disciples and the children refused to be quite and we are invited as well to sing and tell of his goodness and grace, to point to Jesus as God's chosen king and our saviour.

So on Palm Sunday as our prayer of thanksgiving I invited people to take a rock  and with chalk to write or draw on it something they wished to thank God for. How this king Jesus had brought change and new life to their lives...and we placed them on an instillation in our church foyer... A short road made of cloth from palm trees to the cross. But behind the cross was one of our stain glass windows with the light shinning through a  window that spoke of God's creation. Pointing beyond the cross to the hope of new life and fresh creation in the resurrection.

We processed out of the church to lay our rocks on the road and then processed back into the church with palm fronds... To Carl Tuttle's song 'Hosanna, Hosanna'.


Monday, April 10, 2017

The King on a Borrowed Donkey (Luke 19:28-48)


One Sunday after church I took James out for a driving lesson and we ended up heading out to Auckland airport, and as we were going along George Bolt drive, a high-speed motorcade came towards us from the airport. There were police on bikes, that stopped at every intersection to ensure that the vehicles behind them could move through without stopping. There was a police car with lights flashing so motorists would pull over and let them speed by. The motorcade itself was three large black SUV’s with blacked out windows. You couldn’t see who it was in the cars, you couldn’t see which vehicle they were in or which one contained, my over active imagination assumed, heavily armed security people. It was quite a sight, it felt like being in a movie not on a Sunday drive in Auckland, it was unsettling to think that in New Zealand such measures were necessary for a visiting dignitary. 

I wondered what kind of welcome this person would get when they arrived at their destination…red carpets, warm handshakes and greetings, amidst the flashing bulbs of a media scrum, or if they were an unpopular politician, the chant of protesters and yet more police to keep the peace. They would get the grandest of accommodation and the best of service.

I checked the newsfeeds to see if there was someone important coming to New Zealand but there was no mention of anyone. Maybe if it had been someone big there would have been more fuss more ceremony, tighter security and more coverage. Just remember back to Bill Clinton’s visit in 1999 for the APEC summit in Auckland, or the Royal visits that so many look forward to and cherish. All the trappings show us how important and significant these people are… there is a paradox in that to how Jesus enters Jerusalem, and his welcome… He comes humbly riding on a donkey, a borrowed donkey at that…  

Today we come to look at Jesus entry to Jerusalem, amidst the crowds of pilgrims coming for the Passover festival. We are looking at it from Luke’s perspective. For close to a year now we’ve been following Jesus journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s gospel, a journey that takes up the central third of the gospel. I know I said we’d finished that series last week with Jesus parable of the ten Mina’s but the journey really finishes here as Jesus enters the city. It finishes here as Jesus goes to the temple, and drives out the merchants. It finishes here as he teaches and the crowds are attentive to his words. It finishes here as the religious establishment want to have Jesus killed and they put into effect the events that will lead to the cross, Jesus death and his resurrection.

Luke’s account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem, is told in four sections marked by different geographical indicators of Jesus final journey up from Jericho to Jerusalem and on into the very temple itself. The focus of this passage is very much on Jesus himself, it’s full of Old Testament witness to who Jesus is, and it picks up themes that have been running through the gospel: That Jesus is God’s chosen king, but his kingdom is totally different than the realms of this world and how are we supposed to respond to Jesus, there is both worship and acclaim and disrespect and rejection in this passage.

We are told Jesus went ahead, going up to Jerusalem, and he approaches the villages of Bethphage and Bethany  on the Mount of Olives. The mount of olives is mentioned twice in Luke’s account because in Zechariah 14:4-5 it talks of God’s messiah coming from the east from the Mount of Olives. The scene here focuses on Jesus sending his disciples to go and get a colt, that had never been ridden from one of those villages. He tells his disciples if they are asked what they are doing to tell the person who asks the Lord needs it… and they will be given it. This is what happens.

The motorcade that James and I saw had been meticulously planned and practised and there is the feel of some prior planning going into the mission to get a donkey for Jesus. We know from John’s gospel that Jesus visited Bethany on a regular basis. In first century, Jewish customs if a rabbi needed something he could ask and it would normally be lent to him. But the emphasis in this section is not on Jesus strategic planning but his prophetic insight and the fact that what is about to unfold is part of God’s plan. If the planning has gone on it is God’s divine plan. Jesus has on three occasions in his journey to Jerusalem told his disciples that in Jerusalem he would be rejected betrayed and killed and in the final part of Luke’s journey narrative that he would rise to life again on the third day. What is about to unfold is not a tragic end to a good ministry, political intrigue and the happenstance of history, it is God’s purpose and God’s plan, right down to the minute detail of providing a donkey.   

The disciples bring the donkey to Jesus and they throw their cloaks on it and in front of it on the road. Jesus ridding on a donkey is fulfilment of scripture in the book of Zechariah 9:9 the prophet says

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This act is to show that Jesus comes as God’s chosen king. The placing of cloaks in front of the donkey reinforces the Picture of Jesus as King as in 2 Kings 29:13 we have the coronation of Jehu as king of Judah and it tells us that cloaks were laid before his bare feet.   

But the donkey also speaks to what sort of king Jesus is as well. This is not the conquering hero coming into the city at the head of a victorious army, claiming the spoils of war and demanding the accolades of the people. Commentator Darrell Bock says “the humble animal denotes not a messiah of power but of humility and service.”  That this is at Passover signifies sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. God’s king and God’s kingdom stands in sharp juxtaposition to the realms of this world. Down through history attempts to use political or military power to instil the Kingdom of God have led to tragic consequences. The crusades, the Spanish inquisition, parts of the reformation, with civil war and revolt.  In recent times aligning the Christian faith with this party or that government or putting our hope in this candidate or that candidate, has done more wrong that right. We must ask ourselves  is Jesus the humble king of peace, and see his kingdom come as he did in humble service, care and compassion for the least and the lost, and the display of the churches reflection of Jesus righteous and just character. Not demanding influence and power but siding with those with influence and without power.

The story moves on and we move closer to Jerusalem. Again we see Jesus coming from the Mt of olives and down into the last valley before the city. We are told that the disciples begin praising God for all the miracles they had seen. As the city draws near their belief in Jesus as the messiah  turns into worship and thanks to God. I preached on psalm 124 at the Edmund Hillary retirement home on Thursday. Psalm 124 is one of the psalms of ascent, which gives thanks to God for his help in a series of trials and sufferings, described in a wonderful array of vivid images. The Psalms of ascent were used by pilgrims coming to Jerusalem and I can imagine a psalm like that one sparking the disciples to think of all God’s help they had seen in Jesus signs and wonders. It prompts them to use the words of another Psalm associated with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a royal psalm, Psalm 118 ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! ‘peace in heaven and glory in  the highest’.
  if you are wondering where the hosannas are in Luke's account. Luke's quote of Psalm 118 focuses on Jesus aas King and the hosanna's in the psalm are right before he starts to quote. Like wise the palm fronds are not mentioned but again they are in Pssalm 118 as they follow on from this quote by talking of a procession with palm fronds to the altar in the temple.

There response to Jesus is to praise God for all the things they have seen and heard, to acknowledge Jesus as their king. That their hopes for the future are in Jesus and who he is. They don’t fully understand it yet, there will be big doubts and hard times ahead, God’s purposes will look a lot different than how they had hoped for, but their response to Jesus is faith and worship. The same response we are called to make. There hope of Heavens peace and glory, are our hopes, reconciliation with God and his justice and righteousness to reign.

But we also see in the middle of this rejoicing the voices of opposition that have been with Jesus all along. There are no police barriers or security guard to keep them away. Pharisees come to Jesus  and tell him to stop his disciples saying the things they were. The Pharisees you see may be spiritually blind, but they are not dumb they know what these words mean, they know that Jesus disciples are hailing him as king and messiah and saviour. They do not recognise him as such, he does not fit their image of what the king and messiah would be.  Jesus reply here does not quells their anxiety rather it fuels it. Jesus really in an open affirmation of his divinity says well if the disciples stopped, then creation itself would cry out, and acknowledged who Jesus is. The Pharisees hearts maybe like stone when it come to Jesus but the stones beneath their feet would tell of Jesus.  This is the wonderful task and privilege that you and I are given to tell and share of what we know of Jesus and give praise for God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. Creation the psalms tell us speak their praise but it is left to you and I to speak and declare the truth of Jesus to a world that needs to know.

The journey moves on. In verse 41 it tells us that Jesus approaches Jerusalem, as he comes up out of the last valley the whole city comes into sight. Jesus response is to weep, in this last stretch of the journey we’ve seen Jesus act as a prophet and as a king, now he acts in a priestly manner. He shows God’s care and love for the city and it’s people. He laments that the city and its people, represented by the Pharisees in this passage, have not recognised who he is, have not realised that the peace they seek has come to them in the person of Jesus Christ. They had a chance to embrace a different way of living a different way of dealing with the powers who were occupying and oppressing their country but they missed it.  He uses a whole raft of military imagery, ramps being raised against the walls, siege, brutal conquest to speak of the consequences of not recognising the time of God’s coming to them. It’s a very accurate portrayal of the Romans destruction of the city in 70AD in response to a Jewish revolt seeking their independence from Rome, their own understanding of the Kingdom of God.    Jesus as priest tries in here with the Passover as he has come to Jerusalem not only as its king but to offer a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. This is the true salvation and peace that Jerusalem was looking for…

The narrative then changes location again and Jesus enters the temple, cleanses it of the merchants and money lenders and starts to teach. You know that’s a sermon in itself…

You know I don’t know who was in that motorcade that flashed past us that Sunday afternoon. I don’t know where they were going or what they were about. It’s just the image that is stuck in my mind. But in Luke’s account of Jesus entry to Jerusalem we are invited to see who Jesus is. The Jewish scriptures show us the significance of his every action here. We see Jesus as prophet, king and priest. AS the gospel goes on we see where Jesus is going, his betrayal, his death on the cross and his being raised to life again, and ascending to the right hand of the Father, we have seen what Jesus is about and experienced in our lives as well as we have known his grace and love and calling and purpose.   We are invited to join the disciples in giving him praise, being attentive to his word, hearing it and obeying it. We are challenged about rejecting him and how that road leads to judgment.  Today I simply want to finish by inviting us to first be still and think in our own minds how we want to respond to Jesus as king. Then I am going to invite us to stand and join our voices with Jesus disciples and the children mentioned in John’s gospel and the people of the kingdom of God to sing hosanna ‘god save us’ lets be still, lets pray.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Broken Trap (Psalm 124)


Leslie Allen calls Psalm 124 ‘the broken trap’ after the imagery of a bird managing to escape from a snare or net set for it in verse 5. Managing to fly away free, that wonderful picture of freedom that is evoked by a bird in flight.

 It’s an interesting Psalm, a rare psalm in that it is a communal psalm of thanks, everyone giving thanks to God for his help and presence in the past for the whole of God’s people and declaring confidence in the LORD to be our help in present predicaments and future uncertainties.

In its title its ascribed to David but like so many of the Psalms we don’t have any situation in his life to connect it too. In some manuscripts, it does not have that accreditation to David   and Scholars say in terms of its language it fits in well in a later period, a song of triumph for the exiles returning from Babylon, even thought they’d been through the hardship od defeat, exile and living as strangers in a strange and often hostile land, God had kept his word and was restoring them to Jerusalem.  There is something about that not knowing, not having specifics to tie it down to, and its own use of so many different metaphors and a vivid array of different images of danger and trouble that make it so accessible to us. It’s a psalm of ascent and groups of pilgrims from all over the world coming to Jerusalem could fit their own experiences of God's help in times of trouble and suffering and difficulty to this communal psalm. It’s a psalm that can be easily become our Psalm, our song of thanksgiving for God’s presence. Our Psalm as we add our stories of God’s help, rescue and salvation to those of God’s people down through the ages, and give thanks and affirm our trust in God .  

It’s an honest Psalm that says that (to use the words of John 16:33) in this life there will be trouble, we face difficulties, temptations, suffering and disasters, on a national scale a communal scale and a in our individual lives, but we are not to be afraid in those things we can also know and experience God’s presence and aid.

It’s open enough to speak of God’s saving presence on the grand scale; freeing us from sin.  Delivering us from going down to the pit, which is one of the uses of the idea of being swallowed alive.  It has the idea of being spared judgement, as it evokes the Korah rebellion in Numbers 16, where Korah and some other Levites rebelled against Moses and Aaron  and they were swallowed by a fissure opening up, the rest of the Israelites were pleased that God was with them. As we approach Easter we remember Jesus coming as one of us to our side and through his living and dying and being raised to life again, breaking the trap of sin that would bind and hold us captive in its cruel clutches, freeing us to new life in Christ. It invokes Psalm 40 finding Jesus that solid place to stand amidst the mire clay or a torrent and flood.

It’s open enough that we can identify it with the things that we each face in our lives. I grew up in West Auckland and When I read this psalm I couldn’t help but think of the big wet we’ve just had where people out west found themselves in flash floods and a big sink hole opened up under New Lynn… We lived in Titirangi and it was easy to look down on new lynn and think it was a bit of hole anyway…(sorry Westie humour)   You may identify with troubles and situations that you have experienced where its felt like it was going to swallow you whole, or you were going down under the weight of it all, or trapped and unable to break free… or torn by the teeth of criticism and scorn. We often have pictures of big monsters when we think of being torn by teeth but did you know that chihuahua’s are Mexican hunting dogs. Those yupping nipping Dogs, used to kill deer and other animals, in a pack they would nip and yup and worry their prey, giving it no rest, till it was worn out and couldn’t get away, trouble can often be like that pack of chihuahua’s right, trivial things that are like a pack, nipping at our heals, one after the other and not giving us any rest. but the psalm invites us to see and to tell of God’s presence and God’s help. As a communal psalm it invites us to be encouraged and strengthened by what God has done in other people’s lives as well as ours. To be encouraged by the testimonies of people who have been where we have and can attest to God’s presence and help.

Finally we are invited to see God as our help. The psalm says our help is in the name of the LORD. It’s not that we can say in the name of Jesus likes it’s a magical formula, and abracadabra mumbo jumbo thing to make it alright, but rather for the Jewish mind set a name summed up the whole character of a person or in this case the very nature of God. God is our help because of who he is. In 1 john1:9 it says that we can have confidence that of we confess our sin that God will forgive us because God is faithful and just. Israel could have hope even when they were in exile and as Jerusalem was inflames because the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. The psalm talks of God as the maker of heaven and earth, so acknowledged his power and might, but also his provision and care. 

So the psalm invites us not only to give thanks but use that remembering of God's aid and presence to give us faith and trust for the things of today. Faith and trust in the God who has helped his people in so many situations and ways in the past. Who in Jesus came to our side and our aid and is with us till the end of the age.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Investing in the Kingdom of God (Luke 19:11-27)


The scenes we saw around the US presidential elections this year were unprecedented. They showed the deep, deep divide in ideologies in western society. Crowds coming out onto the street chanting

 “not my president”

“not my president”

“not my president”

Wanting Donald Trump un-president-ed if you will. Protests on the night of the election and protests during and straight after his inauguration and continuing unrest…

“not my president”

“not my president”

And of course he’s not my president. However I share the concerns of many people around the world about Donald Trump’s Presidency and this rise of not just US first but “us first” nationalism.



I don’t want to get into that debate today…But as I came to the parable that Jesus finishes his journey to Jerusalem with I couldn’t help think of that chant ‘Not my president’, “not my president” because Jesus uses a similar situation of a noble man who went to be crowned king being opposed by his subjects who hated him, to talk about the kingdom of God: To prepare his disciples for what was about to happen and how we should live as we await his return. How we should live with Jesus as our king.



We’ve been on this long journey with Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem, a journey that takes up the central third of the Gospel narrative, way back in chapter 9:51 Luke tells us “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem”. It’s a journey that has focused on Jesus teaching about what it means to follow him in the Kingdom of God. The passage we are looking at today is Jesus final teaching before he arrives at Jerusalem.  The scene is set by Luke telling us he was near Jerusalem and in verse 28 we move onto Luke's account of Jesus entry into the city. Maybe it would have been great if Jesus ministry had finished with the words ‘the son of man had come to seek and save the lost’ that we looked at last week, on that positive affirmation of his ministry, but it doesn’t Jesus tells a challenging and somewhat chilling parable, difficult to understand, but impossible to ignore. seemingly full of injustice and revenge but full of grace and generosity as well.



To understand this parable and apply it our lives we need to look at it in context. Both in the context of the gospel, with what has gone before and what is to come, and in the context of first century Palestinian politics.



There is a direct correlation with what has gone before. Luke tells us that Jesus told this parable while “they were listening to this”  that refers to Jesus  conversation with Zacchaeus and his declaration that today salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house, he too was a son of Abraham.”  There is the expectation with words like that and signs like the blind beggar receiving his sight that the Kingdom of God was going to come when Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, that he would be crowned king and all the expectations for Israel would come to pass… There was that hope that Jesus would “make Israel great again”. Jesus moves to counter that.



 
It rounds off a section in the gospel about who can enter the kingdom of God. It ties up the ministry that Jesus has had as being willing to invest the gospel into people’s lives and seeing it bring either  left and not allowed to prosper like with the rich young ruler, or give a good return like it did in the livesof the blind beggar, who followed Jesus, and Zacchaeus who stayed where he wasto live out a transformed life. Then there will come a time when how we’ve responded to that gospel will be revealed and assessed.



But it also points to what is to come. That while Jesus is going to Jerusalem to inaugurate his  Kingdom that it will be a difficult process, there will be opposition, his kingship will be rejected, he will die, he will have to go away and but will come back as king. While he is away those who are his servants will be intrusted with what he gives them, a mina is about the equivalent of 100 denarii or 100 days, 3 months wages. You can work that out with what you make a day. It’s not chicken feed, and they are then asked to go about their masters business. When we use the word slave we think of slave labour and forced field work, but in Roman times it was common place for servants to look after their master’s business and free them up to be involved in the public realm. In the Old Testament Joseph as a salve is put in charge of Potiphar’s household and all his possessions.  Jesus parable of the shrewd manager has a servant in charge of all his master’s financial dealings. In the film Shindler’s list about unlikely hero war profiteer and shady businessman Oscar Shindler who saved thousands of Jews in the Second World War, the character Izhak Stern played by Ben Kingsley is a Jewish slave labourer who manages all Shinler's business and eventually becomes his conscience and it’s Izhak Stern with Shindler who goes about the work of redemption, buying back Jewish lives with the Money Oscar Shindler has made.



For Jesus listeners this parable would also have had real life parallels, like I tried to draw with the reactions to the US elections. Judea was a client state of the Romans, so for someone to be acknowledged as king they had to go to Rome to get the authority of the emperor. After Herod the great died, that the Herod who was king when Jesus was born his son Herod Archelus had to go to Rome to be made king of Judea, but he was so unliked that a delegation from Judea went to Rome to oppose him. Because of this he was not made king but rather given a lesser title and less power. When he returned, he made sure that he dealt with the people who had opposed him. (click) Archelus is mentioned in Matthew chapter two as the reason that Joseph didn’t return to Bethlehem but went to Nazareth in Galilee, after Herod died. Coins from his short period of rule have been found, it maybe why there is connection between the minas and his political story in Jesus parable. Anyway He didn’t last long, which is why by the time we come to Jesus passion there is a Roman governor in Jerusalem.  Archelus’ brother Herod Antipas became ruler of Galilee and Peraea and is the king Herod who had John the Baptist killed and was involved in Jesus crucifixion.   But this background meant that Jesus listeners would realise that there can be a long gap between being the King and then starting to reign. It also gave them an understanding of the fact that it was not a simple process and those who were opposed to Jesus as king were going to try and block that.



 It also gives some context to the last part of Jesus parable as his listeners were used to the reality that when a new king came to power the old opposition was removed. Jesus parables are not allegories by the way, we can’t make direct links between each element. There isn’t a direct correlation with the beheading of his enemies by the noble man who became King in the parable, with Jesus. But there is a sense that in Jesus death and resurrection a new kingdom was established. The old order was removed, the old temple worship finished with the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman’s in 70 AD.



That’s a lot of background. How does that connect with us? What does it mean for us today?



Firstly we find ourselves in that time between the inauguration of God’s Kingdom, with Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and its consummation, the time that we are told will come when all will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God.  We live in that tension, already but not yet, we know God’s reign in our lives but there will come a time when it is complete. Kris and I met at Bible college, what is now Laidlaw, and the technical theological term for the idea that the kingdom of God has come but we are awaiting its fulfillment is called inaugurated eschatology… the end times have started. Kris and I got engaged, and with the other engaged couples we formed what we called the inaugurated eschatology club, we were all ready… but not yet. The process of getting married had started but it wasn’t consummated.   What do you do in that time? Well one of the things we did was we invested in our relationship to give our marriage the best chance it could to succeed. We invested in the new reality we were in.



The parable says that is what we are called to do by Jesus as well. We are called as God’s servants to invest in the new reality we find ourselves in invest in this Kingdom of God.  What does that look like. Well in Matthew’s version of this parable the coin in question is called a talent and so historically people have seen this as using the gifts God has given us for Jesus. That’s a good starting point. But all the way through Luke’s gospel we are invited to see very thing we have is a gift from God. Luke is the economic gospel, Luke’s emphasis on how much we understand and know God’s generous over the top grace is shown in how deep it reaches into our pockets. In this parable with this coin we don’t recognise as much as the talent is the challenge that it fact about how we use and invest all the resources God has given us.  It speaks of the gospel as well our talents and gifts, and our finances, our homes open in hospitality.



In Jesus we have a best picture of what that looks like. Jesus invests what God has given him into other people, meeting he poor the marginalised the lost at their point of need and bring grace and the presence of God into those situations. In the blind beggar and the short tax collector Zacchaeus we see it worked out as well. The Blind Beggar, goes about telling everyone what god has done for him and through that others give God praise. It’s about investing the Jesus story, the gospel that has changed us in other people’s lives.   Trent is a pastor at a local church and is a member of the Maungarei Ministers association, and I love his passion for the gospel. He came to Christ out of a back ground of drug addiction, drug dealing and gang affiliation. He has a passion for evangelism, telling people about what God has done for him and what God can do for others for you.



Zacchaeus is different as he experiences God’s grace you see his life becomes about justice and righteousness, he sees gives half his money to the poor and he makes restitution for all the wrong he has done. You can guarantee that the tax system and tax burden in his Jericho got a lot more just after that conversion experience. He became about God’s kingdom as good news for the poor and a just society. Steve who I hope to have share in our service later this year is a retiree, who when he retired from the police had a burning question… why… why was their child poverty in New Zealand? So he went to a low decile  school (that's one in a low sociao economic area for my overseas readers) and asked what the need was, and from there he has started breakfast clubs in seven different schools and uses his skills and talents and contacts to see children in poverty in New Zealand get the best chance they can to get through school and on in life. he cares for their families and through his ministry he tells them and shows them that God cares to.



One of the challenges of this passage is the servant who hid his coin, because he thought that his master was a hard man who wanted to reap what he didn’t sow. Our understanding of God can often stop us from risking investing in the kingdom of God. Like the rich young ruler it can turn us away sad. We can live afraid of offending God, or that if we risk and fail well God is going to reject us but I think that third servant had his coin taken away because well he never really let the gospel sink in and touch his heart and change his life… He didn’t know the over the top generous lavish grace of God that we have seen all the way through Luke’s gospel.



Did you notice how the parable starts with ten servants and finishes by telling us the story of three servants. Like most of Jesus parables in Luke such things leave room for us to find ourselves in the story. We stand amongst the servant who we don’t know about  whose use of what Jesus has given us isn’t yet presented to our King.



I want to finish with the encouragement to invest in God’s Kingdom… The reward is great, and with the help of the holy spirit the return on the investment is wonderful. Where is a good place to start? There are times when I feel I’ve never really achieved much and then someone will share with me how a sermon or a word has helped or encouraged them or I’ll hear from a old youth group member whose doing wonderful things for God, I even had someone tell me that I inspired them to get involved in leading worship at their church… I laughed and said “If I could do it anybody could…”That actually makes me see God at work in all the time and effort I’m prepared to invest. Our  starting point is the same as Jesus did… to invest in one person one place and see how God can use that to bring transformation.

It’s when we are prepared to make that investment that people will see and hear…

Jesus is my president

Jesus is my president
Jesus is my king

And we will hear well done good and faithful servant.