‘Create a new spirit within our hearts, a spirit of conversion to Christ. [Let us put to death the deeds of the flesh, and seek the things that are above, where Christ’s Holy Spirit leads us] Come Holy Spirit, make us children of God, heirs with Christ. [Let us . . . ‘
1 Ki 9-11; Mat 9 Psalm 73
‘I desire mercy . . .’
It would be good to reflect on this saying. We are told it is the merciful who will receive mercy [ just as those who give will receive in all aspects of the life of the Kingdom – ‘forgive us as we forgive’, God opens the door to us in Christ – we have to step through to receive the blessings of the Kingdom.]
And so we might ask ‘Am I merciful as my Father in heaven is merciful?’ bearing in mind that we reveal the nature of our parents in this more than in anything else. Plainly much of contemporary church life is far from merciful. Yes we say we are, but THIS!! or THAT!!! cannot be the subject of mercy. We still set our own bounds
1 Ki 8; Mat 8; Psalm 72
Immediately following the Sermon on the Mount, the theme of obedience of lack of it is highlighted in the healing of the centurion’s servant.
The gospel of Matthew is the one most clearly directed towards an audience which has a Jewish background. Law is a key theme and the gospel is shaped in a five-fold pattern, echoing the five books of Torah. This background is important in understanding Jesus response to the gentile centurion, for there is a key element of the gospel summed up in Chapter 10:5 where Jesus commands ‘Go nowhere amongst the gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, bit go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and proclaim the good news “The kingdom of heaven has come near” ‘.
In the incident with the Centurion, Jesus is amazed for the key element of his conflict is with the disobedience of God’s people. We might well see the focus of the faith of the centurion as key – but there is another important element here. Those under the authority of the Centurion do what they are commanded – as we have already seen, the same cannot be said of the people of God, and yet who has the higher claim to authority? The Son of the most high God, or a mere military functionary?
Put like that we may well spend a moment considering: firstly how our inherently self centered culture in the West responds poorly to any authority except that of the Self; secondly how do we respond to the question when it is put in terms of a miltary leader who commands in the last resort, by penalty of death, compared with Jesus’ authority as a teacher of truth; and thirdly how well our own response to Jesus, freely given compares with that of the servants etc. to the command of the centurion – let alone the response of the disease to the presence of Christ?
Sermon for Patronal Festival
St John the Evangelist, Roslyn
1 John 1
The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ
Years ago, whilst training for ordained ministry, I was struck by the opening of one of the books I read. Indeed I wasn’t so much struck by it as haunted by it – as it’s memory has stuck with me down through the years, and it seems that today as we celebrate our Patronal Festival (almost exactly 6months late 🙂 ) it is a good place to start our consideration of the scriptures.
The book, ‘Telling the Story’, by Andrew Walker, professor of theology and education at King’s College, London opens with these words
‘In 1983, Lesslie Newbigin’s first draft of his book, The Other side of 1984, was being discussed in the British Council of Churches by a distinguished group of churchmen and women, including bishops and leading theologians. The question arose: ‘Well, what is the gospel anyway?’ Only two of the people present were prepared to hazard a guess’
Walker continues ‘This is shocking, but it is not so surprising’.
One can readily imagining a church meeting – or indeed a sermon where the question is put – ‘What is the gospel, anyway?’ And we would all break into little groups and discuss it and possibly there would be scribes who would write down our answers. The conversation would I guess go something like this ‘Well, for me, the gospel is . . .’, and ‘For me, the gospel is . . .’ You may like to think about that question briefly? And I wonder how many of our definitions when carefully questioned would be devoid of any mention of Jesus Christ . . . but I pray that they would not, here of all places
On this our Patronal festival, it is first of all worthwhile remembering the full ascription of our church. To all and sundry we are known as St John’s, Roslyn. But our full ascription is ‘St John the Evangelist, Roslyn’ St John the Evangelist. St John the one who declares the Evangel, the Good News, the Gospel. We above all should know what the Gospel is
St John, the one commonly thought to be he who lay at the breast of Jesus at the last supper – close to the heart of Jesus – declares to us the very heart of the Gospel – and John’s message is simple. The Gospel John proclaims is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ Is the good news. He comes not to declare some message from God, he does not come to suggest to us the right way to live. Jesus does not come to announce the Gospel – He Is the gospel. It is His Life which is offered both to God and to the world.
What is it that John says in the opening to the first epistle, to which we have just listened?
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.
What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands – this Life.
Herein is one of the greatest challenges for us as the people of God in this age. In an age which is increasingly solipsistic, that is that lives in its heads, that thinks truth is a set of propositions about which we may agree or disagree over a dinner table yet still live together as we have always lived, and moreover which thus perhaps more than ever before, spiritualises the gospel that we may escape its concrete demands on our life, our challenge is this – that John, the one who is accused, and indeed in some of the early church writings lauded for writing a spiritual gospel – identifies the gospel with ‘Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth’. The Light of the World, The Bread of heaven, The Good shepherd of the sheep, The Way, The Truth, The Life. All these Wonderful ascriptions are no mere Ideas, they are not timeless truths, They are to be seen, heard and touched in Jesus. The Living Word of God is made Flesh.
John proclaims no vague ‘spiritual gospel’ No ‘message’ or ‘timeless spiritual truth’ His gospel is the flesh and blood and bone and breath material reality that is Jesus Christ
And that the Life is declared – the gospel is announced – so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is declared as the Life that comes from God, that we might share in the life Of God. ‘Now this is eternal life – that they might Know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’
We must wonder at those churchmen and theologians who could not put the gospel into words – who did not know What it was. We must wonder, ‘Did they not know Jesus Christ?’
For He is our Life – the entirety of it – as Jesus says to us ‘Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.’ Might we suggest that the church is in the unhealthy state it is, because increasingly it has less and less to do with Jesus, her risen Lord and the entire content of her being? As St Paul says ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Christ Is our Life. Apart from Him we have no good thing
Do we know this? That Jesus Christ is our Life? As John puts it in Chapter 3vs16-17 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.’ That there is Life only in the name of Jesus.
Just a week or so ago, many church folk were astir at the ‘once in a lifetime’ visit of the Dalai Lama to Dunedin. Understandably so in some respects. A man of international standing and widely admired . . . but, brothers and sisters, not once in a lifetime – but Every week we gather here to meet with Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, the one through whom ‘All things [have come] into being,’ The one without [whom] not one thing came into being.’ He comes to us – His is the life we share – It is His word we hear proclaimed – it is His body and blood upon which we feed. We sometimes speak about ‘Going to church’ as if it were somehow just another even in the week. Sometimes we enjoy it, sometimes we don’t, sometimes the choice of hymns suits our tastes, sometimes they don’t, sometimes the sermon is to long for us, sometimes we wished it were longer 🙂 But ALWAYS Jesus Christ is present amongst us – ALWAYS we receive forgiveness of our sins through his blood – ALWAYS The Lord is HERE!!! Think folk about that just for a moment. I was left wondering why there was so much excitement about the visit of the Dalai Lama, and seemingly so little Joy amongst the people of God Sunday by Sunday – when we meet with Jesus Christ our Life. We may want to ponder that for just a moment. Do we, the flock of Christ here in this place Know him?
John shows us unambiguously that we cannot flee to the vacuous subjectivity of ‘the spiritual’ – handily divorcing faith from the concrete commands of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth Is the gospel – and this is not just John – Jesus the Good News of God is the subject of all of scripture – that Gospel is proclaimed throughout all the pages of Scripture. Moses, it seems to me sees Christ far more clearly than we who bear his name often do.
As God in his mercy reveals a little of himself to Moses – Moses realises that the people cannot live apart from the presence of the Living One as he intercedes with God ‘Consider too that this nation is your people.’ The LORD said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Come to me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I shall give you rest . . . And [Moses] said to [the LORD], ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? The disciples have to be told by Jesus that apart from Him they can do nothing, apart from Him they Are nothing, but Moses pleads in effect – Do not leave us In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’ In this way, we shall be distinct . . . from every people on the face of the Earth.
The reduction of the Gospel to a spiritual message – carefully crafted to offend none – stripped of its true content, Jesus Christ – leaves Christians utterly indistinct from every people on the face of the earth. ‘Oh you are spiritual? So are we – how lovely!’ But how can we know what Spiritual means??? Apart from Jesus Christ – the Word made flesh. Apart from that core understanding that apart from the Life of the Living One in our midst we have nothing, we are nothing, we gain nothing. Yet knowing Him, we have Everything.
The words Follow Me – are addressed through Peter to the whole church – to live our live in and through and with Jesus Christ
Next year – 2014 – we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the first preaching of Christ upon these shores. As a diocese we will together be called to a corporate act of identification with Jesus Christ. Across the Diocese there will be a renewal of our baptismal vows – a reminder to us all that we have seen the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and we have died in baptism with him, and that our life is hid with Christ in God. Following that, the bishop will embark on a Diocesan wide Hikoi – proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the Otago and Southland.
When as it is to be hoped such proclamation of Jesus Christ stirs up our neighbours to ask of us ‘What is the gospel anyway?’ May we not be ashamed to bear the name of Jesus. May we not shy from naming him as our Life – May we not be left as those churchmen and theologians were embarrassedly struggling for words – especially here in the Church that bears the name of the one that has written these things that we might believe, and believing might have Life in and through Jesus Christ.
1 Ki 7; Mat 7; Psalm 70-71
Perhaps it is in Matthew 7 that the sermon becomes its sharpest. Who for example even desires to avoid judging others? Jesus famous joke about the mote and the beam illustrates beautifully our human predicament. We are tuned to see the flaws in others whilst we are blind to our own faults and failings. We see someone choking on a gnat whilst we are trying to swallow the proverbial camel.
Jesus story tells us that we have far more work to do on our own hearts than any assistance we might usefully render to others. Truly it is a narrow gate, the gate of wholehearted obedience to the primary command of Jesus – follow me. Our lives are meant to bear fruit – to bear witness to the Life of Christ in us.
Jesus then closes out the sermon with the clearest expression of what we have been thinking on these past days. ‘Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of m father in heaven’. To Know Jesus is to be identified wholly with him – living as he lived purely for the Kingdom of God.
When we begin to grasp the fullness of that Kingdom, we will know that it is such a huge realm, that our lives are readily swallowed up in it. Perhaps our problem with disobedience is that we think so little of the Kingdom of God?
‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them . . .’
1 Ki 5-6; Mat 6; Psalm 69
As we have been exploring, there is a brand of what passes for Christianity, that pays little or no heed to the actual words of Jesus. To an extent we are all guilty of this. Certainly it is not too much to say that if the vast majority of Christians strove to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, the church would look somewhat different to how it looks.
Think for example about the exhortations to acts of piety done in private, and then consider the walls of so many churches festooned in plaques celebrating wealthy benefactors. ‘Truly I tell you, they have received their reward” How often do we make so much in public of such acts, showing that as a church we have the same mindset whether as donors or recipients.
And then of course, the command ‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth!’ But do we as Christians disengage from the mania with acquisitiveness with which the world is being slowly destroyed? The accumulation of those things we can see, that tempt the eye and thus reveal the covetousness of our hearts and our lack of desire for God.
Take no thought for what you eat or wear . . . I could go on
So often it seems in the West in particular the Church is up in arms about people’s ‘lifestyles’, ften in regard about which our Lord says nothing – yet when it comes to the plain commands of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere) we merge into the background and become indistinguishable from our surroundings.
As we shall see, the consequences of disobedience are great – but we don’t seem to believe this.
‘Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly digest’
For those who are following the scheme to read through the Scriptures in a year, here are the readings for July and August
Of course if you missed the beginning, there no reason why you can’t join in at any point. Please contact church if you need a copy of earlier readings.
Just a couple of tips – if you miss a day, do not worry, or try to catch up, this will just turn it into a chore! Start again with the reading set for the day. And if something grabs your attention, then stop, turn to God in prayer or praise or lament or in whatever way seems appropriate.
This scheme will take you through the whole Bible in a year and twice through some parts. It is adapted from a scheme supplied by the Christian Medical Fellowship. Some of the order of the readings in the Old Testament might strike you as a little odd. This order is intended to follow the chronology of events. So for example in these months readings from 2 Chronicles which refer to Solomon, are interspersed with readings from Ecclesiastes which is traditionally attributed to Solomon, as also are the Proverbs.
Of course you do not have to read All of the readings, you could perhaps just follow the Old Testament track, or the new – or just read a Psalm a day as set – all of it is a profitable discipline
May God bless us all in our studies
July 1 Prov 12-14; Matt 14; Psalm 78 vs 32-end
July 2 Prov 15-16; Matt 15; Psalm 79
July 3 Prov 17-19; Matt 16; Psalm 80
July 4 Prov 20-21; Matt 17; Psalm 81-82
July 5 Prov 22-23; Matt 18; Psalm 83
July 6 Prov 24-25; Matt 19; Psalm 84-85
July 7 Prov 26-27; Matt 20; Psalm 86
July 8 Prov 28-29; Matt 21; Psalm 87-88
July 9 Prov 30-31; Matt 22; Psalm 89:1-18
July 10 2 Ch 1-4; Matt 23; Psalm 89:19-end
July 11 2 Ch 5-6; Matt 24; Psalm 90
July 12 2 Ch 7-9; Matt 25; Psalm 91
July 13 Ecc 1-4; Matt 26:1-35; Psalm 92-93
July 14 Ecc 5-8; Matt 26:36-end; Psalm 94
July 15 Ecc 9-12; Matt 27; Psalm 95-96
July 16 SoS 1-4; Matt 28: Psalm 97-98
July 17 SoS 5-8; Acts 1; Psalm 99-101
July 18 1 Ki 12-13; Acts 2 Psalm 102
July 19 1 Ki 14-15; Acts 3; Psalm 103
July 20 1 Ki 16-17; Acts 4; Psalm 104
July 21 1 Ki 18-19; Acts 5; Psalm 105 vs 1-25
July 22 1 Ki 20-21; Acts 6:1-7-16; Psalm 105 vs 26-end
July 23 1 Ki 22; Acts 7:17-end; Psalm 106:1-23
July 24 2 Ch 10-12; Acts 8; Psalm 106:24-end
July 25 2 Ch 13-15; Acts 9; Psalm 107:1-22
July 26 2 Ch 16-18; Acts 10; Psalm 107:23-end
July 27 2 Ch 19-20; Acts 11; Psalm 108
July 28 2 Ki 1-3; Acts 12:1- 13:12; Psalm 109
July 29 2 Ki 4-5; Acts 13:13-end; Psalm 110-111
July 30 2 Ki 6-7; Acts 14; Psalm 112-113
July 31 2 Ki 8-9; Acts 15:1-35; Psalm 114-115
August 1 2 Ki 10-12; Acts 15:36-16:40; Psalm 116-117
August 2 2 Ch 21-24; Acts 17; Psalm 118
August 3 Joel 1-3; Acts 18; Psalm 119:1-16
August 4 Jonah 1-2; Acts 19; Psalm 119:17-32
August 5 Jonah 3-4; Acts 20; Psalm 119:33-48
August 6 2 Ki 13-14; Acts 21; Psalm 119:49-64
August 7 2 Ki 15-16; Acts 22; Psalm 119:65-80
August 8 2 Ki 17-18; Acts 23; Psalm 119:81-96
August 9 2 Ki 19-20 ; Acts 24; Psalm 119:97-112
August 10 2 Ch 25-27; Acts 25; Psalm 119:113-128
August 11 2 Ch 28-29; Acts 26; Psalm 119:129-144
August 12 2 Ch 30-32; Acts 27; Psalm 119:145-160
August 13 Is 1-2; Acts 28; Psalm 119:161-176
August 14 Is 3-4; 1 Thes 1-2:16; Psalm 120-122
August 15 Is 5-7; 1 Thes 2:17-4:12; Psalm 123-125
August 16 Is 8-10; 1 Thess 4:13-5:28; Psalm 126-128
August 17 Is 11-12; 2 Thes 1-2; Psalm 129-131
August 18 Is 13-14; 2 Thes 3; Psalm 132
August 19 Is 15-16; Gal 1-2; Psalm 133-135
August 20 Is 17-19; Gal 3; Psalm 136
August 21 Is 20-21; Gal 4; Psalm 137-138
August 22 Is 22-23; Gal 5; Psalm 140
August 23 Is 24-25; Gal 6; Psalm 141-142
August 24 Is 26-27; 1 Cor 1; Psalm 143-144
August 25 Is 28-29; 1 Cor 2-3; Psalm 145
August 26 Is 30-32; 1 Cor 4-5; Psalm 146-147
August 27 Is 33-35; 1 Cor 6; Psalm 150
August 28 Is 36-37; 1 Cor 7; Psalm 1-2
August 29 Is 38-39; 1 Cor 8-9; Psalm 3-4
August 30 Is 40-41; 1 Cor 10; Psalm 5-6
August 31 Is 42-43; 1 Cor 11: Psalm 7