Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pentecost 11: The Way of Deliverance

Today the lectionary has us looking at the beginning of Exodus at the story of Moses.  Moses is regarded by many as the greatest of the Old Testament characters.  Many Old Testament characters can often be summarised or mainly remembered in one graphic story:

So with David, it is: David and Goliath
            Noah – Noah & the Ark
            Daniel – Lion’s Den
            Jonah – Whale

But with Moses – there’s the story of him in the bulrushes
                             then the burning bush
                            the 10 plagues
                            then parting the Sea
                            the 10 Commandments

He is a giant in the Old Testament, isn’t he……
Just as Jesus is the giant or main character of the New Testament …… so is Moses the giant of the Old Testament.
You know there is no New Testament without Jesus.
There is no Old Testament without Moses.
So we are going to spend some time on Moses.

Like Jesus, Moses survives persecution at the time of his birth.
Herod had all babies under 2 murdered when Jesus is born.
Pharaoh has all Hebrew boys murdered at Moses' birth.
No nation has known and survived such ongoing and persistent persecution as the Jewish people, and they have survived not because of any goodness of their own....... but purely because of the grace of God.  
The Grace of God.

What is the Grace of God – there are many definitions.  I want to lift one from the story of Moses.  Grace is undeserved blessing.  Grace is undeserved love.
It is something happening to me that I haven’t earned or deserved.  That’s grace.
Moses was just another Jewish boy....not deserving of salvation any more than any other little Jewish boy.
When the Pharaoh’s daughter sees him, she knows that.  But she has compassion on him (not on all Jewish boys – just him.  Never underestimate the value of your indiscriminate acts of compassion) and she brings him into Pharaoh’s Palace and he is adopted by her and he grows up as an Egyptian prince.

That is grace and it flows from her compassion.  Moses has done nothing to deserve this.
We see in this story how God deals with you and with me.

We have done and can do nothing that would ever compel the God of Creation to seek us out in the bulrushes that are our existence, to seek us out on the river that is our life.  The Psalmist asks, “What is man that You, God care about him?”

But God does care about you and me, because of His love, His compassion – in fact because of who He is, not because of who we are,...... He seeks us out.  That’s grace.  
The New Testament says that we are saved by grace through faith.
He pulls us from the river of this life, which if we stay in it leads to the sea of eternal death, he pulls us out from that river and say I want to adopt you as my own child and I want you to come and live in my in my Kingdom, now, in Alberton, as you work and pray for my kingdom to come in Alberton. 
That’s grace.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions and I’m going to prepare a place for you and when it is ready, I’ll come and get you so that where I am you might be also.”
That’s grace – undeserved love shown by God to you and to me, to sinners.
Paul reminds us that it was while we were still sinners that Jesus died for us that we might have eternal life – we just have to believe it, believe that what happened on Calvary to Christ, saves me, saves you.  
Just believe with a belief, a faith, that leads to action.

This means recognising our need for salvation, that we need to be saved from the river of life which is not in Christ, we need to be saved from the way we are in when we realise that the way we are in, is not the way God wants us to be in; but recognising also that just as the Pharaoh’s daughter saw through the black tar basket and saw the innocent child within, so too God sees our blackness which is our sin, deals with it on Calvary and then says believe that I dealt with your sin on Calvary, and from that moment I see through the blackness and in fact I see you as born again, as a new creation and I adopt you into my family.  That’s the story of salvation offered to you and me.  
Please believe it.

What have we looked at today?
Well,  in the story of Moses we see the beginning of the deliverance of God by  the grace of God.....we see Ephesians 2:8-10....we see the gospel:

 We are saved by grace;
We need to recognise our need to be saved.  Imagine if Moses thought he didn’t need to be plucked from the river.  I’m happy as I am, I’m comfortable here – leave me alone. Do you sometimes believe that.....that where you are and how you are living is exactly as God wants you recognise the need to be saved from the rut you've got into?  
 Recognise your need for the salvation Christ offers.

And finally, a challenge:

A people who have experienced grace must show grace – who can you reach out to this week?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Pentecost 10: Jesus on Unclean food and Unclean people

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Our journey with Jesus continues as Matthew takes us from Jesus’ confrontation with the storm on Galilee to a stormy confrontation with some “Pharisees and teachers of the Law from Jerusalem” (vs 1).  They question Jesus’ authority and in vs 7 Jesus calls them hypocrites who honour God with their lips, while their hearts are far from Him.

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Some religious hypocrites who have been elected as leaders in Jerusalem are offended because the preacher’s interpretation of Scripture doesn’t agree with their interpretation of Scripture.  The amusing thing here is that the disciples seem to think that Jesus would actually care that some (many) people were offended by the Gospel (because Jesus only preached the Gospel).  He warns several times in the Gospels that as preachers of the Gospel, people will often take offense at the message of the Gospel.  On another occasion, He says to them that when that happens they should leave and make sure that not even the dust from the place sticks to their feet.

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.

He then goes on and says that these leaders are nothing more than blind guides......destined for the pit.

Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

We have to feel for Peter here......he can’t really believe what he’s hearing......he doesn’t want to believe that leaders that he respects can be so stupid that Jesus (yes......Jesus) calls them hypocrites (to their faces, of course) and blind.  So in case he is missing something, he humbly asks Jesus to explain.

Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.

And now it’s Jesus who has to ask in the holiest way possible: “Are you doff?” ......actually......”Guys, are you still so doff?” You know....., goodness me, we’ve been together for a while now......when are you going to get the point about the Kingdom of God?

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

And so He goes on and says, “The things that defile us, that make us unclean, that make us dirty, that make us abominations, these things are not related to what goes in or what comes out......NO! ......all these things (murder, adultery, sexual immorality......) happen here (I’ll hit my heart) long before they happen here (now I’ll touch various parts of my body.)”  

Cleaness/uncleanness/holiness/sin has little to do with what you do or say or don’t do or don’t say......cleanness/uncleanness/holiness/sin has much to do with what is motivating the desires of the heart that cause us to act the way we do.  And, as you’ve heard me teach so often before, there are 7 motivations that give rise to every sin you and I have ever confessed: pride, anger, envy, lust, laziness, gluttony, greed. 

As long as you and I continue dealing with our actions rather than what motivates the action, we get nowhere in our journey to holiness and Christian perfection.

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

And then Jesus withdraws, but as Matthew tells the story, the teaching about clean and unclean continues as Jesus and the disciples go to Gentile territory and have an unclean woman (according to the Law, Jews were to have no contact with Canaanites)......they have this unclean woman nagging, nagging and nagging:
            “Have mercy on daughter is suffering terribly.”
One would expect Jesus to respond......but......she’s a Canaanite....will He....won't He?  He has previously responded to a Samaritan woman, but Samaritans are half we have a Canaanite. How will He respond?

Jesus did not answer a word.

Jesus says nothing.

So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

So the disciples get involved.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.

“I’ve actually only come for the Jews and the occasional half-Jew......the disciples and the church are going to take this into all the world.  My time is little and it’s being taken up by having to convince unclean Jews that they need to become clean.  When they’ve become clean, they’ll go out to the unclean world.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

“Please help me......I can’t wait, my daughter can’t wait.”

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.

“Woman, what little I’ve got I’ve got to give to the Jews.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Friends, I hope you’re learning from this that you must never stop pleading with Jesus......but learn from this lady who you and I really are: 
This unclean on the inside Canaanite knows/acknowledges her uncleanness – her doggedness, and thereby opens herself up to grace.
The clean on the outside religious hypocrites of Jesus’ day refuse to acknowledge the filth, the doggedness on the inside; they take offense at the one who points it out to them; and they shut themselves off from grace.

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This grace on Jesus' part can be summed up in one word......LOVE.

Let me conclude.


Think very carefully and answer deep within yourself.  Is there in your heart: Pride, Anger, Envy, Laziness, Lust, Gluttony, Greed. 
Are you clean or unclean?

“Lord have mercy and change my heart, O God.”

Is there anyone that you look down on, despise, a person or a group whose actions you find abominable?
Is there someone you are currently staying away from?

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, claiming the authority that was conferred upon me by the laying on of hands at my ordination......I......ask, beg, implore, suggest, command you to go from here in the power of the Holy Spirit and demonstrate love in a tangible way to that person as Christ demonstrated love to the “unclean” Canaanite woman.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pentecost 9: Where is God when.....?

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 & Matthew 14:22-33

I am going to start this sermon with some real down to earth family issues that come up in our Genesis reading as we look at the question: Where is God when.....

vs 2: Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.  Where is God when you live with a tattle tale –in the family, in the office, etc.

vs 2: Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons,  Where is God when there is a favourite in the family (office, class, etc) and it’s not you.

vs 4:When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.  Where is God when you’re the favourite (you can’t help it) and you have to deal with the hatred of our siblings.

Where is God when they hate you so much they plan to kill you, but instead throw you into a well and they sell you to some slave traders?

Before we answer, “Where is God when....”, a word to parents: don’t have favourites;
to children: don’t hold it against the favourite;
              if you are the favourite: talk to your parents and say “stop this.”

If these things are not resolved, they fester.....and they erupt in the most dreadful ways.

If you’re in a family that has drifted apart for whatever reason, resolve today to begin to put that right with God’s help.

But..... where is God in the midst of our problems?  I’m sure Joseph’s brothers asked this as he irritated them, but couldn't do any wrong in his father's sight.
I’m sure Joseph asked this as he lay in the bottom of a well.

Where is God when I’m losing my job?
Where is God when I’m losing my house?
Where is God when disease is destroying my body?
Where is God when I’m abused in my home?
Where is God while I’m being raped?

I think our New Testament reading can help us.
It’s Matthew 14:22-33 and follows where we left off last week.

Did you notice: Jesus sends His Disciples across the lake......He goes up a hill to pray and then we are told there was a “strong wind against the boat.”   They are struggling.....but notice especially that they are struggling to do what Jesus has asked them to do – go to the other side.  Doing Jesus’ work, Kingdom work, going in the direction Jesus wants you to go... can be a tremendous struggle.  

Where was God while they were struggling to do His Son's will?

Then, between 3 & 6am, after 9 hours of struggle (!!!!????)– Jesus comes towards them. 

Our struggles can really go on sometimes, can’t they – hours, days – Joseph’s struggles in Egypt went on for years and included false accusations of rape and jail. Our struggles can really go on, they can be horrible, they can be undeserved, and probably worst of all confusingly misunderstood by us!  

The one thing that really strikes me about the disciples in the boat is …… they don’t call on God!  Their Scriptures, our Old Testament, taught them that you can call on God – the Psalms teach that.......the prophets teach that,.....Jeremiah calls on God in his own struggle from a well.......Job teaches that ……
They really should have known that they can call on God, but they don’t....and we often make the same mistake.  Perhaps it's because they’re fisherman – I’ll call on God when I have a spiritual problem, but at work, in my office, here in the boat, I’ll help myself thank you very much.

When do you turn to God? ……

And Jesus walks on the stormy water – 3, 4, 5, 6 foot high waves, so one moment you see Him, one moment you don’t, plus the spray of water in the wind, so they think they’re seeing a ghost.  That frightens them …… the storm didn’t, but the sight of Jesus does!
“It’s a ghost” they said, and screamed with fear (it's almost funny, except it's embarrassingly close to home for too many of us, so we don't laugh)
And Jesus says to them words that He often wants to, and does, speak to us if we would only listen in the midst of our own storm.  
Courage.  It is I.  Don’t be afraid.
 Do you need to hear that this morning? And then Peter, dear Peter, says – through the stormwaves in the dark, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  Why doesn’t he say, “If it’s You …… stop the storm.”  We so often just ask for the wrong thing, don't we?  So Jesus says Come ……the storm continues – waves - wind …… and Peter walks and walks, heading in the direction of Jesus......... but, as we've seen, storms continue when we walk towards Jesus, and when he notices the waves, he starts to sink.
This reveals a truth we’ve perhaps all seen.  In the presence of Jesus and as we move towards Him, the storm continues, but if try and keep our eyes on Him, we don’t notice it, or we notice it less, and we can crawl, walk or even mount up with wings like eagles and fly.  But when we take our eyes off Jesus, we of course notice the storm and we quickly lose perspective, and it can then just as quickly overcome us and we begin to sink.  Focusing on Jesus does not make storms, waves, hardships, struggles, disappear; but it does give us a focus; a better perspective, a direction in which to move, whether by crawling, walking, running or flying.

And then, praise God, if we call out, He’ll reach out and grab us …… while the storm continues.  They got into the boat and then …… the storm stopped.  Now my question has been – where is God in the midst of things that happen in my life? …… and the answer is:

 …… He is there in the midst …… waiting for us to notice Him ....He will not force Himself on us....  “It’s God here……why don’t you call me?”  He waits for us to notice Him – to realize He’s not a ghost or a fairy tale, figment of many people's imaginations........ but real.  He waits for us to turn our eyes to Him …… and how do we do that …… by faith – a faith that believes He’s there to be seen if I look for Him and His presence felt if I reach out for Him.

Do you believe that Jesus is with you? Do you act on that getting out the boat.....or by reaching out (in prayer, in praise, in worship, in fasting, in the Word, in reaching out to others, etc)  If you do, you will find what you need to cope with the storms that blow up, be they in the form of bratty brothers & sisters, or murderous brothers & sisters, or all the other forms that storms take in your life and mine.

Believe that Jesus is really with you.

The Readings

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
2 This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornaterobe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”
“Very well,” he replied.
14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Pentecost 8: Feeding When You Think You Have No More

This miracle is recorded by all four of the Gospel writers which means we look at it often if we follow the RCL.  You may remember, but I doubt it :-), that  the last time I preached on it, Luke’s account last year, we looked at God’s power manifested in Christ to provide even for our most basic needs – bread when we are hungry.
You know the story – 1000s of people, the Bible just says 5000 men, but we know there were women and children, probably an equal number – the exact number not important– it just makes Gods power more obvious.

The picture we have is that Jesus and his disciples tried to go somewhere quiet, they crossed Lake Galilee, but people walked around the shore – Jesus has crossed the Lake, but we’re going to try and find Him.  Men and women and children setting off – knowing it was going to be quite a way – Jesus obviously wouldn't get into a boat just to go around the corner.  So these people go around the lake to find Jesus.

They find Him, He teaches and He heals, the Bible tells us, because He was filled with compassion for them, and suddenly it’s late afternoon and people are getting hungry and they start looking around and the disciples ask, “How will we feed them?”  

And then He take some stones, and He changes them into bread and He says, “Feed them.”
Is that how it happens?  - No.

Could it have happened that way? Is Jesus that powerful – of course He is.  But He doesn’t work that way, does He?  He can, make no mistake, but He doesn’t.  Famine and hunger constantly creep across Sub-Saharan Africa and disease coupled with malnutrition is destroying lives in our own country, even here, close to AMC.  Could God turn stones into loaves and feed hungry people on Heidelberg Road? …… Hmmm ……of course He could.

Could we take our communion bread this morning, thank God the Father for it and then divide it between the thousands, because it is 1000s who are hungry around Alberton......of course we could, couldn't we?

How big is your God?

There is a Jewish woman who is a scholar of Jewish culture at the time of Jesus and who has converted to Christianity.  She’s now a recognised Christian scholar.  It’s always very interesting to read the stories, miracles and parables of Jesus from a Jewish Christian perspective.  She says there were two things about this miracle which always bothered her as a Jewish mother – the fact that there was no food... and the amount of leftovers.  1000s of men, women and children going on what they knew would be a long walk, Jesus had crossed the lake, 1000s of Jewish mothers either setting off with no provisions or sending their husbands and children off with no provisions. 

Her understanding of Jewish culture then and now makes that kind of neglect very strange.  I can understand that – if I said to everyone in this church – we can get into the next cricket test for free, and there were lots of us who said: "let’s go", I know, I know because I’ve seen it in my family, that the moms, especially if the children were going, would throw together a pack of food, or run into the supermarket.  That’s what Mom’s do.  And this Jewish Christian Scholar says: "guess what – they were like that then as well."  In fact she says more so, because in the days when you only got places by walking, and in the Middle Eastern heat you weaken quickly, you always took something.  Kind of like whatever hurry you’re in, you always make sure there’s petrol in the car – they always made sure they had sustenance.

She says the fact that thousands and thousands of people didn't do that is strange, not impossible, but strange.  Then she asks: Is it possible that a lot of people did have food but didn't want anyone else to know in case……they……had……to……share……it.  "I've got enough for my family, why should I give to you who’s forgotten to bring for your family?"  Do you know that feeling?
You know that feeling, we all know that feeling – we know it well.

It’s like if I’ve got a chocolate here – as soon as I let you know, what do I feel obliged to do – to share it …… or hmmm – a packet of biltong.  Our Jewish Christian scholar likes to think that there was more than just the five loaves and two fish (that’s the biltong equivalent in Jesus’ day – salted fish.) 

And when Jesus says: "Sit down, divide into groups" and then takes this little boy’s picnic pack for his family, prays over it and then says “now go and share it” ……
She likes to think that Jesus’ prayer when He lifted it up to Heaven for all to see was not "Father multiply this", but "Father open their hearts that they will share what they’ve already got with one another" – So Jesus prays, says the Bible, and suddenly there’s loaves and there’s fish.
12 basketsful are collected afterwards.
I am not suggesting that Jesus did not miraculously multiply the loaves.  But I am saying there are two possible miracles here.  
In the one: Jesus miraculously multiplies bread and fish and make no doubt, He can do that, then and now.
In the other miracle: Jesus' ministry and love and teaching works in and on the hearts of a few thousand people bringing them to the point where they are willing to share what they have with others.

Which is the greater miracle?

Growing bread or changing hearts?

Is your God big enough to not only grow bread but change hearts?

The people who study these things tell us that there is actually enough food to go around, that here in Ekurhuleni/Alberton, here in Gauteng, here in S.A., in the world: There is enough food. The miracle required is not a miraculous growth of food, there’s enough.  The miracle required is that those who have food will share with those who don’t.....that is a real miracle, and like all good things in the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated with His resurrection, God now works with us to change the world.

The one miracle has Jesus doing all the work and we sit back and eat. 
The other has Jesus changing our hearts, with our permission of course, to a point where we say: "What do I have, that someone else needs?"
Who can I share with today - my home, my money, my food, my time, my clothes?
Who can I share with today?
And when we do, then God's kingdom comes and God's will is done.

People are hungry – are you waiting for Jesus or the church to do something?
People are naked – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
People are poor – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
Children are being orphaned – are you waiting Jesus or the church to do something?
Are you wondering why it is that God doesn't do something?  

A real kingdom miracle is needed.......You and I need to think about that.

As we come to the Lord's table in response to His gracious invitation to come to His table today,

              We meet in the brokenness of the world and the cries of the hungry for bread.
              Enable us to be the bread that You break which provides life for the world.
              And when we come again to Your table, Lord, ourselves broken, may we once more become the bread of sincerity and truth, as You become for us the Bread of Life. (Alan Jenkins)