Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Sunday 17 February 2007 John 3:1-17 Lent 2 Kim: Faith

Jesus: the Son of God (John 3:1-17)
Our Father: Forgive us…as we forgive: Faith

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, was a member of the Sanhedrin and he was an ‘undercover’ believer. He wanted to learn from Jesus, but not to be seen. He probably got more than he expected – a challenge to a new life. We too have that same challenge – a challenge to a new life. The question is do we want to take up the challenge?
For God’s kingdom is not a country that has borders. It is not in one particular place and I think the best description of God’s kingdom is in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. In this prayer, we ask for God’s kingdom to come to the earth, so that everyone will obey God, for even the angels in heaven obey God and we ask that this will happen on earth too. A writer named William Barclay said that ‘God’s Kingdom is a society and in this society people do everything that pleases God and that God’s kingdom had already begun because when a person believes in Jesus, they join God’s kingdom’.
When Jesus told Nicodemus that there is only one way to enter God’s kingdom – a person has to be born again. Nicodemus did not understand that Jesus was not talking about the birth of our physical bodies. He was talking about the birth of our spirits. Now Nicodemus was a very clever man. He knew the Scriptures well and he taught people about them. But he did not understand and because he was clever, he realised this. He was wise enough to ask Jesus some questions. He really wanted to understand and Jesus explained things to him. You do not have to be clever to believe what Jesus said. You just have to have ‘faith’ in him. Sadly, there are many people today who do not understand and they struggle with the concept that they need to believe in Jesus. But when we understand, we are compelled to do something about it. It affects us. We must choose whether to obey Jesus or not.
For when we ‘believe in Jesus’ and begin to trust him, we are made aware of our sins and are sorry because of them. We know we should be punished for our sins but Jesus suffered that punishment on our behalf. He paid the price for our sins. So when we accept him as our ‘Lord’, God forgives our sins and he accepts us. Then the Holy Spirit enters us and God begins to change us. Our spirits are born again! Our spirits become alive and we know God is real. We love him and we want to please him and as the Spirit moves within us we become different people inside our hearts and because He has forgiven us, we too have the urge and the ability to forgive others no matter what.
Everyone who has been born again belongs to God’s kingdom. It does not matter where you live, or if you’re rich or poor, what colour skin you have, or whether you are young or old; God accepts everyone who believes in his Son and are given a ‘New Life’. It is a gift from God.
Sin is like a snake’s bite. A bite poisons our bodies and ruins our lives. But God has provided a way to cure us. He has provided a way to save us from sin and death. Jesus said that people would lift him up, like the snake. He was referring to the time when they would put him on the cross. They would lift him up on the cross for everyone to see and we must look up at him on the cross. To put it bluntly, we must trust him, because of the cross. The only way to free us from the results of our sin is to look at Jesus on the cross. When we look at the cross, God rescues us from the results of our sins. In other words, we must trust Jesus to save us from the punishment for our sins. He died so that God would forgive us. And we are expected to forgive others.
Verse 16 is probably the most famous verse in the Bible. It expresses in only a few words what Christians believe. It tells us the main reason why God sent his Son to die on our behalf. There are several reasons why God did this. He did it because he is fair. If people do wrong things, they deserve a punishment. So Jesus suffered our punishment in our place. He did it because he is holy. God cannot accept us, because we sin. But Jesus, who never sinned, took our place. He died instead of us and when we believe this, we receive Jesus’ righteousness as our own. So when God looks at us, he is so overwhelmed with love for us, he chooses to see Jesus’ righteousness instead of our sin. That’s amazing.
Love is more than just one of God’s qualities. His nature is love and God does everything because he loves. God’s love always reaches out to us, the people that he has made. God’s love is never selfish. He gave to us the most precious thing that he had: his only Son so that we might have Life – ‘eternal life’, God’s free gift to us. We cannot earn it. But we do have a duty to let other people know that the only one way to receive a ‘new life’ is to be born again and to believe in Jesus. To believe ‘in’ means more than just to know that Jesus is God. Even the devil knows that! It means that we should trust Jesus completely. We should allow him to rule every part of our lives completely for He has a plan for each one of us. We must believe that all his words in the Bible are true and we must obey him. We must believe that he gives us the power to change our characters to make us become more like him, if only we would let him. People have gone before us and have done just that – believed in Jesus and when we look at the Old Testament we can see that with our new birth in Jesus, God welcomes us into the family and we can share in the same trust that Abraham and Moses had. But we cannot will this, we can only respond to the Spirit’s will, and receive the Father’s love revealed to us in his Son.
1. What thoughts come to mind as you read this passage? What do you think God might be saying to you?
2. We pray ‘forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Are you the first to say sorry or do you find it difficult to forgive? Is there anything you would not forgive?
3. Jesus said “You must be born again and have faith in Jesus”. Have you? There are going to be three answers to that question. Yes – No – Not sure. If the answer is no or not sure, then please talk to Bruce, Robert, Melanie or Kim or someone you trust about how you can be sure.

Sunday 10 February 2008 Matthew 4:1-11 Lent 1 Melanie

A newly married sailor was told by the Navy that he was going to be stationed for a whole year a long way from home on a remote Island in the Pacific.

It was only a few days after he arrived that he began to miss his new wife. So he wrote her a letter.

‘My love’, he wrote, ‘we are going to be apart for a very long time.
Already I’m starting to miss you and there’s not much to do here in the evenings. We are also constantly surrounded by young attractive native girls.

Do you think if I had a hobby of some kind I would not be tempted?’

His wife sent a letter back, enclosing a harmonica saying, ‘Why don’t you learn to play this?’

Eventually his tour of duty came to an end. He rushed home to his wife. ‘Darling’, he said, ‘I can’t wait to see you and have a cuddle’.
She kissed him, then said: ‘First, let’s hear you play that harmonica’.

Temptation is the theme of the first Sunday of Lent year after year.
Today we are told about the temptations of Christ. In the wilderness, in a solitary, deserted place. No shelter from the searing sun. Or respite from the dry heat of the desert

Struggling to find food and water. Sharing an inhospitable place with other predators. Living with an endless horizon of sand, where only the most hardened could survive.

In this barren desert, he would try to find God.
Find God, in the middle of nothingness.
Find God in a place where little on earth lived.
Find God at the extremes.

What would be wrong with turning stones into bread? Later he would turn 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish into a feast for 5,000.

What would be wrong with relying on Jewish scriptures? Relying on them so much that he trusts the angels to protect him? Later Jesus would walk on water. Surely that is no harder than floating on air.

What would be wrong with Jesus, God’s Son taking control of the kingdoms of the world? Don’t we look to him to do this at the end of time? What would be wrong with doing all of this?

On one level – nothing. And on another level – everything.

The Son of God using superhuman powers to save himself, to give himself glory, to take away his humanity. Yes – everything would be wrong.

It’s a constant debate: Jesus – human or divine? It kept the church arguing for centuries. Even now we struggle with the same problem. Was this Son of God so divine that he lost sight of human emotion? Would he have had sexual thoughts? Fantasised about marrying Mary Magdalene? Shades of Da Vinci Code, and The Last Temptation of Christ spring to mind.

And yet, in this reading we have the evidence. The truth that Jesus was in all ways tempted, yet was without sin.

I wonder what tempts you? Probably not turning stones to bread or jumping off a cliff.

I am usually tempted by good things, not evil.
I can happily say no to things we all agree are wrong. My struggle is between the good and the best. I am so often satisfied with the status quo.
Tempted to let others speak out against social evils.
Tempted to do nothing about world poverty.
Tempted to go with the flow, rather than be a voice that makes a difference.

But then I remember the famous line: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Even if our temptation is to do nothing, we are in danger of being caught by evil. ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’ at once becomes a necessary, vibrant, living reality. Something that we need to have at the front rather than the back of our minds.

Perhaps we need to be blessed with discomfort when we hear easy answers or half truths.
Blessed with anger at injustice and exploitation.
Blessed with tears for those who suffer.
Blessed with foolishness that says we can make a difference.
Blessed with all of these things rather than being tempted to go with the flow, to do nothing.

Our reading this morning gives us hope.
It shows us once more that we are not alone in our struggle.

We know that Jesus struggled too; that he wrestled with evil, that in the middle of that wilderness he too must have questioned, reasoned, argued, shouted, and cried out to God.

And yet, we are left with his final words to Satan: ‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him’.

We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing living or dead, high or low
angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, thinkable or unthinkable, absolutely nothing can come between us and God’s love in Christ Jesus.
And that is good news.

Questions for Discussion
1. What is the most comforting thing for you about the temptation of Jesus?
2. And what might you find troubling or perplexing?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Sunday 3 February 2008 The Presentation Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40, Bruce

Our Father, who art in heaven
At the hinge point between Christmas and Easter, we are reminded that heaven’s only Son was fully one with us. Humble servants have waited long years for a glimpse of heaven on earth. His parents are doing all they can humanly do, and they must trust …

Last week we began a series of associated talks, on the theme of the Lord’s Prayer.

Today we remember the Presentation of our Lord. Arising from the regulations in Leviticus in the Hebrew scriptures, a woman need to be ritually cleansed after childbirth; this took place forty days after the birth of a boy and sixty six days after the birth of a girl. Until recently it was customary for women to be ‘churched’ after a birth.

In addition, it is part of the Exodus story that the first born son belonged to the Lord, and had to be ‘redeemed’. This is connected with the story of the Passover, and the concept that the nation of Israel is God’s special son among the nations. The son was to be redeemed by the offering of a lamb.

And so Mary and Joseph come on the fortieth day with their son to the temple. The prescribed offering is a lamb for the son and a dove or pigeon for the mother. However if the couple are too poor to afford a lamb, they may offer a dove or pigeon, and that is what we find happened in this case.

And so we tell for the last time this season the Christmas story: angels from the realms of glory, shepherds in the field abiding, sages, or wise ones, leaving their contemplations, all have passed before us. And now we have these faithful ones who have dedicated their lives to waiting for the coming of the promised saviour. The prophet Malachi had promised that the promised one would appear “suddenly” in the temple (page 961), and they were determined not to miss it!

And so this wizened old man, probably with a bald head and a white beard, rushes up and seizes their child! Simeon praises God with the words that generations of Christians have known as the Nunc Dimittis, calling Jesus the light for the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. It is from these words that we have the custom of lighting candles at this time, to acknowledge the light of Christ shining out.

For Simeon, Jesus is the presence of heaven here on earth. The darkness of this world will be dispersed by the brightness heaven’s glory. As we take this last look back to Christmas, so we also take our first look forward to the cross. Jesus will bring the light of heaven by causing many to fall, perhaps as they become conscious of the darkness within them; he will cause many to rise, as they trust personally in Jesus for forgiveness and wholeness. As the writer to the Hebrews says, Jesus has become fully human. He has come to suffer temptation and suffer and die for us, in order to atone for us. He will be spoken against by many, but many will also find their thoughts and motivations exposed and made clear.

For Mary, there is puzzlement and pain: a sword will pierce her soul also.

All this backed up Anna, who has been waiting for this moment and joins in the songs of praise. This special child will grow up to make a difference, to bring about heaven on earth as the fortunes of God’s people are transformed.

What are we to make of this?

Every child is special. We are here to baptise little Abi, rejoicing in the potential and hope that her young life brings us. On her behalf her parents and godparents pledge a life of obedience to Christ and walking in his ways. She will be part of the bringing in of the kingdom. Can we guarantee this? Of course not. Rather, we are writing a cheque of faith on her life. Through the prayers and example of us all, as we welcome her into the family of God, we will do all that we can to help her.

Mary and Joseph offered up their child to the service of God. We humbly come to do the same today. Perhaps we have here a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a railway worker, a prime minister or a bishop! Whatever paths she takes, we offer her and entrust her to God’s keeping.

And each of us is called to live out those baptismal promises - to reject evil and turn to Christ. Today, as we say the words of the service together, we each have an opportunity, as Simeon and Anna did, to respond to the presence and love of Christ, living in the presence of our Father, who is in heaven.

May the light of Christ shine in your life! Amen.