Sermon for Sunday 23rd June – St John the Evangelist (transferred)

Sermon for Patronal Festival
St John the Evangelist, Roslyn

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 117
1 John 1
John 21:20-25

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.


Through the Bible in a Year – June 17

The scheme for May – June can be found here

1 Ch 25-26; Mat 1; Psalm 62-63

Our scheme sadly does not take us through all four gospels twice. So we need to pay close attention now to Matthew which we open today. In orthodox churches, there is Always a reading from one of the four gospels. Many of us belong to churches where we stand as the gospelis read – often from amongst the people – to remind us that we are hearing the words of of our Lord.

Jesus as we shall see over the next few days, places great emphasis on listening to his words and doing them. In a sense this is the heart of the Scriptures. These words do not come to us through human agency, except that of the Word made flesh. They are the very words of the Second person of the Trinity. These words are life to us.

And Matthew is at pains to point this out – we begin with one of two genealogies of Jesus – this one dates points us back to Abraham – the one who is the father of the faithful – and also includes the Royal line in the initial inscription. He is ‘Jesus, the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham’

Unlike Luke, Matthew focuses on Joseph in the story of Jesus’ birth – ‘Joseph the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born’. All the way through the genealogy, Matthew draws in seemingly peripheral figures, or outsiders, and in a sense this is true also of Joseph. His role is portrayed as simply obedience – an overshadowing of Mary.

In Catholic tradition, Mary is sometimes understood in terms of the Ark of the Covenant – the God bearer. Perhaps we might understand Joseph as the cherubim that overshadow the ark?

Also of course we have the famous text from Isaiah. ‘Behold – a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’. Matthew, one who writes in Greek takes his text from the Septuagint, the Greek text, rather than the Hebrew, or at least the Hebrew as we have it. Actually the Greek is the oldest extant text – our earliest copies of the Hebrew text date from much much later. The Hebrew text has ‘a young woman shall conceive (Isaiah 7:14). It is possible but not proven, that in an effort to quieten the Christian apologists, the Hebrew text was changed, and that in the original it did say virgin.

Finally it is important to note that ‘God is with us’ – in the Isaiah text is freighted with threat as well as promise. When God comes to his people to be amongst them, it is as King, as Judge. Joseph knows the One who commands and goes about His business promptly. However much contemporary tellings of this story make of ‘what it must have been like for Joseph’ -the scriptures only reveal a faithful child of Abraham, who like father Abraham goes in response to his Word (cf Genesis 12:1-3)

Through the Bible in a Year – April 12

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Deut 20-22; 1 Thes 1-2; Psalm 119:113-128

Twice in these opening chapters of the first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the imitation of these Christians of the way of life of the Apostles as the confirmation of their election. This Imitation is no mere copying though, throughout it is tied to their reception of the Holy Spirit. The word is not merely received, i.e. agreed to, no it comes with the Spirit and power that lives are transformed.

This aspect of conversion is more and more neglected in an age where faith is a matter of believing certain facts. A Sign of our elcetion, that the Gospel has gone home is that our lives are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, and that change brings with it persecution. Christian Life is not socially acceptable, for it calls the world to something New – to change.

The further emphasis on the word as being more than a message to be ‘believed’ is found as St Paul speaks of the ministry of himself and his companions amongst those at Thessalonica. He begins (2:1-7) by saying that they have spoken in such a way not as to win approval from men, as in the same way he speaks of bringing the gospel to Corinth. The words are not cover for something else, there is no flattery, no pretext for greed. The Apostles do not seek anything for themselves through the ministry. We might, were we to stop half way through verse 7, imagine Paul go on to say that they proclaimed the truthful word. We might imagine how we are commended to Truthfully proclaim the word, in and out of season – but at this point Paul changes the reminder of their mission to the words – ‘we were gentle’ amongst you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our very selves . . .’

Paul’s model for evangelism is not ‘pure proclamation’, but the vulnerable an gentle sharing of lives. A model I suspect we have largely forgotten in the years since this the earliest account of Christian witness was written.

Through the Bible in a Year – April 2

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 33; Eph 4; Psalm 114-115

Paul here is leading us in what is for most if not all of us, foreign territory. that is that the Primary arena for the working out of the Christian life is within the community of faith. The Risen Christ says ‘By this shall they know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another’.

I have written and spoken elsewhere on the marginalization of the church in almost all Western traditions – read almost any contemporary book on ‘spirituality’ and abracadabra, the Body of Christ disappears . . . We have by and large reduced the Church at ‘best’ ‘to a man-made society for promoting and developing ideas’  and at worse to a social club for the religiously inclined, or organising place for ‘social justice issues’ We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten our Calling, to ‘grow [as a body of people] into the full stature of Christ’ that the Wisdom of God may be made known to the rulers of this dark age, as we are built up in love. THIS is what the church must give herself to. Yes we must teach, but the goal of the teaching is te building up of the whole body. Why, Why, Why is much if not all of our teaching directed at our individual lives, when in truth these are something of which the Scriptures know little if anything?

Paul has not lost sight of this vocation – have we?

The Lord has need of it

One of, if not The key elements that sets Christian faith apart, is its understanding of God.
As The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Michael Ramsey said, God is Christlike, in God there is no unChristlikeness as all. So as we see Jesus, we must thus reshape our understanding of God.

In Holy Week we are faced with this Incarnation of the radical undoing of any idea of God that is a projection of our wish fulfilment, ultimately upon the Cross, the God who is Crucified, the God who dies.

Throughout the week there are markers of this strange God revealed to us in Christ.

Firstly at Palm Sunday, we are reminded that we worship a God who makes himself dependent upon us. Throughout the gospels we are confronted with the needy God, the one for whom there is no room in the inn, the one who must ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, the one who has nowhere to lay his head, the one who has no coin, the one has need even of a lowly beast of burden, the one who thirsts, the one who in the end will lie in a borrowed tomb.

He sends his disciples to find the colt, and the words he gives them is The Lord has need of it.

This is how this strange God comes into the world, not in fullness and power, but in emptiness and need. Challenging all our preconceived ideas about God, and continuing to challenge those ideas about God which even after 2000 years we refuse to lay down. Challenging our ideas also about Mission.

Our ideas about Mission tend to start with our Power, our Resource, and the need of others. Yet when God comes into the world, all he offers is himself, he even relies on others to feed him.

Rowlands Williams in an address to the Benedictine community at Monte Cassino, spoke of how Emgland was converted by Augustine’s monks, that the people were won over by their poverty and prayer, that like the disciples of old they took nothing with them and were entirely dependent upon the people to whom they went. How different to our perceptions about church and mission.

Our ideas if both are based on fullness and power, we ‘need’ our own money, education programmes, paid staff, etc etc etc. Yet, if Christ lives in us, why do we need all these extras? If . . .

Jesus comes as one entirely dependent upon those to whom he comes, there is Nothing that stands in the way of his message, He Is the Good News.

‘With Jesus our only possession . . . ‘ goes the words of a song. Dare we, like Christ be dependent on those to whom we go?

Loving the hated

It strikes me that there is a tension within the scriptures, indeed evident within the words and actions of Jesus, a tension not well navigated in the life of the church.

And that is between ‘holiness’, for want of a better word, and mercy. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount preaches what many treat as an impossible ethic, to live out the life of God, to be the light of the world. Yet also he associates with those who manifestly – externally at least – do not reveal that life, notorious sinners. Furthermore amongst his disciples we see little of this Life manifest, and Peter must be restored after denying Christ.

This restoration in particular is most significant, for Peter is restored to his position as the lead disciple, the one called to feed the sheep. Jesus does not say to him, ‘of course you are forgiven, but having failed so appallingly, you can no longer feed my sheep’, which is the almost uniform response of the church to those who fall from Grace, sometimes quite horribly.

Of course the one to be restored needs ‘a penitent, lowly and obedient heart’, but then so do we all, and perhaps here is the true challenge for us all.

Peter would not have been restored in the church in these days, it seems to me.

James, the brother of Jesus, whose voice often sounds to me closest to that of The Lord, tells us that ‘Mercy triumphs over judgment’. It strikes me that this aspect of the Life of God we would do well to ponder in our shared life.

[with thanks to Jill Hopkinson for providing the stimulus for these thoughts in the sentiment expressed here]

Sermon for Lent 2 – Orientation

Lent 2 Sermon  [AUDIO]

Sermon for Lent 2
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:14-21
Luke 9:28-36


‘If any would be my follower, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me’

When folk ask me how I’m settling in here in New Zealand, I have to say, pretty well. ‘So far so good!’ as the man said passing the 23rd floor of the skyscraper out of which he has just fallen’ 🙂 But there is one aspect of life here that it has taken some considerable time to adjust, and that is to do with Direction. I noticed this especially sharply when out in 2010 to come on interview,  that is my sense of direction – which way is North, and which South. It wasn’t until I came out here that I realised how sharp my sense of direction was and how it was determined by the position of the sun in the sky. So when I came over I was constantly getting my North and South muddled up. You don’t realise you have a sense of direction, until you lose it. But this even extended to being inside, or more correctly being in a church building.
You may have noticed last week, how for a moment I struggled to tell you which side of the church you were all sitting on – because back in England a church was like a compass – it pointed East. So the altar was beneath the East window, and as I looked back down the church, North was to my Right and South to my Left. Indeed you didn’t have to be in a church to be so directed, for in the Church yard, all headstones also faced East – all towards Jerusalem – that at the second coming of Christ – all the dead would be raised facing the right way, and the Saints at worship would also be properly directed – Oriented towards Jerusalem, where tradition holds the Lord will appear.
But now I come into church – and my compass doesn’t work! So our ‘East Window’ is actually the South Window – I am disoriented – actually very literally, for the verb ‘to orient’ – which we take to mean to properly direct, comes from that English practise of lining churches up facing East, or towards the Orient – you Oriented the church – set it in the right direction.

Well, that is why metaphorically at least I should be grateful for Lent – for it is a time for Re-orientation – of retaking our bearings – of realigning our lives, not geographically, but personally – towards Christ. Christ who himself is Oriented – ‘towards his departure which he is about to accomplish at Jerusalem’. As I said at our Wednesday Eucharist – we face up to Reality. We clear away the overgrowth and the undergrowth – by taking ash on our foreheads we confront the deep truths of our lives – Dust you are and to dust you shall return – we are going to die – Repent and turn from your sins – we are sinners called to turn around – Re Orient our lives – face Christ – Believe the good News.

And we engage in this act of Repentance, this reorientation by denying ourselves – we don’t treat our lives as the supremely important thing. We fast – ‘my physical needs are not primary’ – we pray – more correctly we pray more, we make more time for prayer – ‘my schedule, my busy life is Not the main thing’ – and we give alms – ‘the real meaning of my life is not my security. If I am fortunate to have money beyond my most basic needs, then it isn’t for me – it is for others’. It is a Reality check on our lives, it is an opportunity given to us by the church in her wisdom to Orient our Lives once more upon Christ. To take our bearings from him – that with St Paul we might know which Direction it is that we must follow to ‘press on towards the goal’ – the heavenly call.

Now of course we may well hear those words of Paul, about the heavenly call, and then in the context of the gospel reading this morning, assume that this orientation involves us in some ethereal contemplation of Jesus upon the mount of Transfiguration – we might with Peter say ‘this is wonderful! – This is what it is all about! Lets stay here. Notice that he makes this request, Moses and Elijah are just leaving Jesus – once more Peter opens his mouth without knowing what he is saying. Just as he says to Jesus, This must never happen to you – so also he gets in the way. They are all going – Jesus is on his way – Peter wants to stop. Jesus tells Peter what is to happen, and Peter gets in his way – ‘Get thee behind me Satan, for you do not have the things of God in mind but the things of man’, Get out of my way!! you are facing the wrong way – So also the Cloud and the voice are given  to Redirect – to Re Orient Peter. While [Peter] was saying this . . .’ a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

As you know, I am just recently back from retreat – a whole week alone in the presence of God. Over and over folk say – I hope it was a lovely time, I hope it was a refreshing time, oh you are so fortunate – this sounds like bliss . . . judgement begins with the people of God – it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Whilst I do look forward to retreat, I know that in the end I am walking in with my own sentimentalised understanding of what a week in the presence of God is like. My own domesticated version of God, an idol, and not at all like Jesus.

They were terrified as they entered the cloud, and a voice came from the cloud, that said “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him” Orienting our lives on Jesus, requires listening to him. We go into whatever our desert place is – that extra hour in the day we have carved out to prayer, to Listen to him. Our chief problem in the church always has been and always will be our deafness to what Jesus says. And so at every Eucharist we are exhorted “Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” and we respond “Praise and glory to God” and having heard “this is the gospel of Christ” “Praise to Christ the Word!”
Again, as I said last Wednesday, when we again heard the story of Jesus in the Wilderness being Tempted by the Devil, it’s worth asking ourselves “What was the Good News we heard in THAT!!!??” Put another way, are we hearing the Good News, Are we hearing Christ, do we begin to understand what it is he is saying? Peter what he must think of as “Oh the most wonderful of experiences” But he hasn’t heard . . . What has Jesus been talking about? Well he’s been talking with Moses and Elijah – ‘speaking [with them] of his departure which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem’

Luke seems to suggest that the disciples are not privy to Jesus conversation with Moses and Elijah – it was not for their ears. We might perhaps think this strange? Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah and the disciples are half asleep. Listen to him?? Yes Listen to him – for Jesus had already spoken of these things with his disciples . . . our gospel begins with the words – about eight days after saying these things . . . what things? Jesus has just confirmed Peter’s suspisicion that he is the Messiah – Wonderful!! Good News!! and then he says “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.

As Jesus later spoke with Moses and Elijah about his departure . . . so he has already spoken to the disciples . . . in terms that they have not heard, they have not Listened – this is my Son, the Chosen, Listen to Him – why should the voice say this except that they have not listened. There they are up the mountain – the dream like has become their reality – half asleep – AH! THis is it! But no – this is the dream – the reality was those words thay had not listened to “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Jesus has spoken of his departure – literally his Exodus – ‘Which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem . . .’ which He was about to accomplish. Which HE was about to accomplish . . . the hard word of the gospel is this – it is not about You – it is not about me – do you want ot save your life? you will lose it. But if you lose your life – then you will save it. The gospel is not about the fulfilment of our lives – it is about the end of them – so that His life might become everything. this Christian Life is All about Christ – it is not our life, it is His Life.

When God enters the covenant with Abraham this is made so very clear – I don’t know when you last made and agreement with someone who was asleep – but God puts Abraham out of the picture. A deep sleep fell over Abraham and God’s agreement is made with himself – it is between God – between the Father and the Son. He will accomplish it – All the glory will be His – my glory I share with no other. He does not entrust himself to a man, for he knew what was in a man . . . Peter has not listened – he has not got it. and as soon as they come down from the mountain, all hell breaks loose. Before the transfiguration, Jesus tells the disciples what the score is, but they do not listen – they think it is all about them. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, what does he find but whilst he has been away the other disciples have been trying to take things into their own hands. A boy is demon possessed, his father is at his wits end – the disciples have seen Jesus in action, and taken matters into their own hands – to absolutely no avail . . . its not about them, or what they do – they didn’t hear the words about having to lose their life – we can do this – and all hell has broken loose – the boy is dashed to the ground in convulsions – the fatherof the boy is at his wits end “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not” and Jesus responds “you faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you”. Like the children of Israel long ago when Moses went up the mountain they cannot wait for God – their eyes cast around for ways in which They can take things into their own hands and Aaron casts them a golden calf – something to entice the eye, something to make them feel important, at the centre of things, with a respectable God like all the other nations – one that doesn’t speak.

So the disciples take matters into their own hands – they think it is all about them. Their lives need reorienting – redirecting, to Christ – to look to him – to listen to him, like him to live only in response to the word of the father. But this is such a hard hard lesson – it seems we are hard wired to make ourselves the centre of the story.

Yes – there is a time when we are called to act in the name of Jesus. But it comes hedged around with a terrible warning – a little later on Jesus sends out 70 disciples, and he tells them what to do – and so they go – and we know the story – they come back rejoicing – full of themselves’Lord in your name, even the demons submit to us” and Jesus calls them round and says, look, let me tell you something, Long time past I watched Satan fall like lightening from heaven’ His Sin – why did he fall? He wanted to be the centre of things – do Not rejoice in what you have done in my name “I am an unworthy servant – I have only done that which was asked of me” No Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. This is not about what you do, it is about what I have done

We NEED the disciplines of lent – we need to be radically decentered, dethroned – this Good News, this Gospel is NOT about us. Thank God!!

Through the Bible in a Year – February 7th

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Job 33-35; Acts 13:13-52; Psalm 48

‘With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared’ Ps 130 vs 4

What sets the God and Father of our Lord Jesus apart is the forgiveness of sins. And Christ when he comes, announcing the reign of God does so by forgiving sins. (We may be in awe of making a paralytic walk, but remember that Jesus only does this to reveal his even more breathtaking authority, to forgive sins)

Thus we may well say with the Psalmist, ‘Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised’ – that the dwelling place of God is a place of wonder and beauty.

So also, Paul, when he is called to speak in the synagogue in Antioch, when he comes to the culmination of his message says ‘Let it be known to you therefore my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses’

And here is a small clue as to how we announce the gospel in our own day. Paul begins by rehearsing the story of Israel – and it is a story fundamentally of how they are trapped by their past. In many respects the Pharisees whom Jesus encounters embody this slavery to what has gone before, as they seek to reaffirm their national identity in the face of many challenges, they are clinging to a history of rebellion agains God.

All around us we are surrounded by people similarly trapped by their past. Let us be clear, our past is all we know for sure. For so many that past weighs heavy. Shame and guilt often threaten to overwhelm and so we hide. The Gospel of Christ is an invitation to step out into the light that we might be healed – set free from our past – given a new life.

But this life is no mere, new start. Those who know this forgiveness become themselves forgiving. The wonder of that release means that they want others to know it. If we do not forgive we as yet have not come to know Christ, we as yet have not known the true liberation he brings – we have not ourselves yet heard the gospel, the Good news of the forgiveness of sins.

Sermon for Christmas

Christmas 2012 audio [Link to Recording of the sermon]


JOHN 1:1-14

‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us’

One of the advantages of Christmas here in New Zealand is that we get Christmas first! I guess that that means we don’t have to wait as long?? 🙂 But as I’ve been keeping up with friends around the world this past few days, it’s been fun to see them half a day or more behind where we are in terms of their Christmas festivities – and so yesterday morning I heard from a friend in the UK who had just finished their nativity play – and the alarming news that with two minutes to go, they’d lost ‘the baby Jesus’!! The doll that was Always ‘the baby Jesus’ was kept amongst lots of others in a big cupboard of toys for the little ones and with two minutes to go before the service, someone noticed they hadn’t got the doll had gone to the cupboard . . . to discover that the cleaner had had a clean out and the doll had gone!!!

Well, fortunately a little girl at the service had brought her doll with her, and was more than happy for it to take the starring role!!

Yet for all we sing ‘Away in a manger’ and have our crib services, the gospels really aren’t written to have us cooing over ‘the baby Jesus’ – rather the text of the familiar stories as told by Matthew and Luke are far more concerned with telling us the story so that we might be drawn into it and allow it to address us. All these thoughts about the fragility of a baby, about his humble origins are not the concern of the evangelists – rather the way they tell the story is to get us asking the question ‘Who Is This child?’ – Who is this child that Emperors have restless nights because of – Who is this child whose coming requires God’s Spirit to move over the face of the deep as once of old he had Bringing Life out of nothing, a baby from a virgin? Who is this child who causes the angelic host to be seen once more – who is this child who is born in Bethlehem, the City of Old King David, and yet who finds the door of the inn slammed in his face (there is no kindly innkeeper in the narrative) – Who is this child whom Shepherds worship and herald?

And in a sense there is little point us reading Luke and Matthew’s’ account at Christmas – for they are telling the story of Jesus from its human beginnings – it is if you like the beginning of the biography. And at the beginning we cannot see the end – the whole. It is only Mary and Joseph who are told – Joseph is told that this child ‘will save his people from their sins’ – Mary is told ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end’ It all lies in the future – Faithful Israel will ponder all these things in her heart, but Luke and Matthew tell the story from its beginning and cause us to ask the question which the rest of their gospels are written to answer – Who is this child?

John however, tells us it not only from the end, but from before the beginning and beyond its end. John, as we hear at our annual carol service ‘unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation’

And so that is why as we the people of God gather to Celebrate Christmas – we read John. For John reveals all the breadth, the height and the depth of the reality of this child – when we read John we read the True meaning of Christmas – and It is So big it is like swimming in a vast Ocean of meaning and Truth.

What does John tell us about this child?
This child is the eternal Word of God – He is God’s Very Truth and Life and Light – This child has always been with God – This child is the one through whom everything that has been made was made – This child is the means of Life coming into the World – a Life that gives Light to all people, This Child, this LIght is overcome by nothing, not even death can hold This Child.

John of course knows the Nativity stories – he knows how there is no room for this Child – he came to his own – to the Very city of David – and his own knew him not – the World did not know him – Imperial Rome did not come to pay tribute – only to extract it

But to all who received him, He gave power to become children of God! John is So careful here in setting out what this means – children born not of blood – or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man – children born not by biological process – not by human desire – but born of God. As John knows of the Virgin birth, so he points to the birth This child heralds. This child – ‘the baby Jesus’ whose birth we focus on – as we truly turn our hearts and minds to him – becomes the source of Our Birth

Perhaps this is why we want to sentimentalise the story – as I said a few weeks ago, we don’t want to drag in the evil Herod into our Christmas plays – we want to keep it safe – because in the end this child opens the door to the most dramatic and challenging possibility of all. A possibility that calls our very Life into question – that of our own rebirth as God’s children, born from above, born of the Holy Spirit – as that which was within Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
This child – The one who fulfils the  impossible possibility of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. As the Virgin Birth of Jesus heralds an impossible possibility, so too, perhaps even more so it heralds the impossible possibility of the transformation of our hearts – that we might be like Him – the Firstborn.

The birth of Jesus into our flesh, opens the door to our birth into HIs Life – this child

And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have beheld his Glory, Glory as of the Father’s only begotten, full of Grace and Truth.

All through Advent we have considered how to be ready – how to prepare our hearts – yet aside from turning our hearts and minds to him there is nothing we can do – He is the one who when we contemplate HIm transforms our hearts. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – literally tabernacled amongst us.
Of old the children of Israel had camped in the Wilderness – three tribes to the east, three to the South, three to the west and three to the north – all facing the centre – the tabernacle – the dwelling place of God, where the Glory of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Now he dwells once more amongst his people – that we might behold his Glory and so be changed ourselves from one degree of glory to another

I guess we will all go from this place today to celebrate with much food and more – but I pray we will all take the time to Swim – not in the cold Southern ocean – but deeply into these words of John and into the Wonder of This Child – and so rejoice evermore deeply and truly in our celebration of His Birth. That our Christmas might be truly Merry and Happy and Full of Joy and Light and the Life of Christ.