Saturday, 26 September 2009

Sunday 27 September 2009, Back to Church Sunday, St Michael, Luke 19:1-10, Bruce

When I was about six, I was sent across the road to the chip shop to buy some chips. I remember feeling terribly lost and alone in the chip shop, surrounded by all these adults. We are told that Zacchaeus was a little man. He was rich and important, but he was tiny. We surmise that he was unpopular and lonely; tax collectors are never popular, but he was virtually a servant of the occupying military power Rome, so he was a traitor. His position gave him the right to exact as much money as he could – there were no legal maximums; as long as he paid enough to the authorities, he could keep the rest.

He wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short. He may not have wanted to be jostled by the crowd. Therefore he does something childlike and undignified – he climbs a tree. This will give him a good view, and perhaps allow him to remain anonymous.

But Jesus stops the procession, looks up and fixes his gaze on him. Come down, Zacchaeus! Quickly! I must come and stay at your house.

As Zacchaeus is such a renegade and all round bad person, this caused outrage amongst so-called respectable people. And it is why we are looking at this story together on a day when churches all over the land are inviting people ‘Back to Church’. The strap line comeasyouare is inspired by the attitude of Jesus as we find him in this story.

Jesus does not insist that Zacchaeus be different or reform himself. There are no conditions. True, after his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus is different. From a life apparently centred on material things and the gaining of money, he changes radically when he determines to give away half of his possessions. The penalty for theft in the Old Testament was to repay double what was stolen (Ex. 22:4) – Zacchaeus promises to repay four times as much.

He has really changed. But it is before all this that Jesus says he will come to him. Again and again, Jesus breaks the norms, upsets the established order of things. He accepts us as we are, and loves us.

This is the message we all need to hear. You will find at the back of church some postcards. The drawing of this incident is by Sunhee Joo from Korea. No matter what culture we come from, irrespective of our class, education, wealth or background, we all need to know above all that God loves each of us, as we are, and Jesus came to include us in his love.

As a church community we are seeking to learn how to live in the spirit of acceptance that we see in Jesus. It is not automatic, and there are all sorts of pressures that can make any of us defensive and judgemental. Our heart’s desire, however, is to be Open for All, accepting all as Jesus did. This is especially important as somehow the church in general has gained the reputation of being inward looking and oppressive, instead of being the place where we can find life and hope in Jesus.

The fact that you are here suggests that you have done something, maybe started to climb into a tree, to try to see Jesus. May I encourage you to respond to his invitation of love? He would love to come, as it were, to stay with you and share your life. This is not just a life-enhancing feel-good factor, but will affect you deeply in every area of your being. You may find yourself being better as you get to know him.

Please take home a copy of this postcard if you wish. Stick it on your fridge door or have it on your desk. You may find it helpful to look closely at it. Who are you in the story? Are you Zacchaeus, up in the tree, hoping to remain inconspicuous? Do you sympathise with those who muttered because Jesus was lavishing attention on a self-confessed ‘sinner’? Where would you like to be in relation to Jesus?

If you want to pursue these questions, you might want to chat them over, perhaps with the person who brought you this morning, or catch me over coffee. You might want to come along to the launch of our Alpha course this Tuesday evening at Bonnys.

Jesus asks us all to come as we are. We are all accepted, all loved.

1. What is the most surprising thing about this story to you?
2. How do you respond to the suggested motives Zacchaeus might have for climbing the tree? Does this tell you anything about how you see yourself, and how you respond to Jesus?
3. What ways are we aware of that the church can be like the ‘muttering’ crowd? How should and could we be different?
4. The Son of Man came to seek that which was lost. How can we collectively do this today?

Friday, 25 September 2009

20 September 2009 - Kim - John 4:21-24

‘The Divine Impulse to draw us to himself.’
Last week Bruce spoke about ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. Literally, he set up his tent among us, he tabernacled himself among us. We are meant to understand that all that was promised and foretold in the Old Testament stories has now been fulfilled in Jesus. That we are pilgrim people, travelling with God, and he delights to make his home not just among us but actually within us as we believe in him. Our whole lives are centred on him. Today we are talking about ‘The Divine Impulse to draw us to himself’. An impulse to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

In our gospel reading we encounter Jesus at Jacob’s Well. Tired and thirsty he meets a local woman from Samaria and begins to gently expose her need of God’s forgiveness by asking her for a drink of water. A little defensive, she tries to engage Jesus in a debate about the best time, place and style for worship.

"Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:21-25)

Jesus reveals that questions over where we worship are not as important as how and why we worship. In Hebrews 12:28 the writer calls us to be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him. That is our objective this morning. To discover from these words of Jesus how to worship God in a way that will please him. We can observe from this passage that the kind of worship that pleases God has four characteristics:
God is pleased when our worship flows from being saved, when our worship is scriptural, when our worship is spiritual and God is pleased when our worship is sacrificial.

God is pleased when our worship flows from being saved
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22)
Worship is linked to salvation. This is the most profound truth we can learn about worship. Only those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour can truly offer worship that is pleasing to God. Remember at this point the Samaritan woman did not recognise Jesus as her Lord and Saviour so her worship was in ignorance. Perplexed by Jesus’ reply, “The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:25-26). Jesus reveals himself to her. Amazed at his answers she runs back to her village to tell everyone she has found the Messiah. The whole village returns and urges Jesus to stay with them. The village people worshipped no more in ignorance. It now sprang from thankfulness for who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Worship that pleases God springs from a heart that is saved and will lead others to salvation. We pray in Jesus name. We proclaim in Jesus name. And we do both when we praise in Jesus name and this pleases Him.

God is pleased when our worship is scripturally accurate
“true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

Worship that pleases God must be scripturally accurate not scripturally ignorant. Occasionally someone will say to me “I like to think of God as…” and then they go on to describe a god they have created in their own image that they worship. The bible has a word for this approach. It’s called idolatry. Worship must be based on the truth of scripture. Jesus acknowledged that there are two kinds of worshippers - true worshippers and by implication - false worshippers. “true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

“To ‘worship in truth’ means to worship God as he is truly revealed in the Bible.” The best way to worship God, therefore, is to use scripture in worship. The Psalms, for example, are a divinely inspired hymnbook without the tunes. Indeed our study of the bible should not only feed our worship, it should also shape our view of what true worship is. Our faith is based on God’s progressive revelation of himself. That is what Jesus meant when he said “salvation is from the Jews”. The Jews were intended to be a light to the Gentiles. But Jesus also predicted to the Samaritan woman that the time had now come when it was no longer necessary to travel to Jerusalem and enter the Temple or offer sacrifices to worship God. Much of our thinking about worship, however, is still shaped by obsolete Old Testament concepts. Our churches are seen as holy places, with altars and priests. That is why it is so important that our understanding of worship focuses on the teaching of Jesus and practices of the New Testament. If Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, your body is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. This means we can worship God anywhere. No place is more holy than any other. If we limit worship to what happens in this building, the minute you leave, you will leave your attitude of worship behind like a crumpled-up news sheet.
So if we are to please God, our understanding of worship must be shaped by the Bible and He is pleased when our worship is scripturally accurate.

God is pleased when our worship is spiritually authentic
“true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)

“When Jesus said we must ‘worship in spirit’ he wasn’t referring to the Holy Spirit, but to your spirit.” Our innermost being. That is why only those who have been born again and made alive by the Spirit can worship in a way that pleases him. We are to worship with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind. “God wants all of us.” He doesn’t just want part of our life on Sundays. Jesus told us to give God, all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength. Rick Warren insists, “God is not interested in half-hearted commitment, partial obedience, and the leftovers of your time and money.” Spiritual worship therefore engages the whole person including our emotions. God gave us emotions so you could worship him with deep feeling - but those emotions must be genuine, not faked. God hates hypocrisy. He doesn’t want showmanship or pretence or phoniness in worship. He wants your honest real love. We can worship God imperfectly, but we cannot worship him insincerely. How ironic then that worship seems to be the most divisive issue in many churches today. Christians often differ on the most appropriate or authentic way to express praise to God, but often these arguments usually just reflect personality and background differences.
The Bible describes many different ways to praise God. These include, confessing, singing, shouting, standing in honour, kneeling, dancing, making a joyful noise, testifying, playing musical instruments, and raising hands. What is the best style of worship? The best style of worship is the one that most authentically represents yours any my love for God, based on the background and personality God gave you and me. We don’t bring glory to God by trying to be someone God never intended us to be. God wants us to be ourselves. God is pleased when our worship is spiritually authentic.

God is pleased when our worship is sacrificial and practical
What the Samaritan woman did involved great sacrifice. Sacrifice to her pride, to her self-esteem, a risk to what ever reputation she still had. She went to the villagers and said "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Sacrificial and also practical. Indeed Jesus gently rebukes his disciples when they return and points to the Samaritan woman returning with her neighbours, praising her actions.
“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” (John 4:35-36) God is pleased when our worship is sacrificial.
When I come through the door of the church on Sundays, I ask myself ‘what am I bringing as my contribution to the worship?’ I do this because I could very easily forget the real reason why I am here. Ok on one level I’m here to bore you with my sermon! But it would become ‘what I can get out of it’; But it isn’t about me it’s all about God.
We could go through the motions, sing the songs, say the prayers, listen half heartedly to the sermon but our heart is far from him. We become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it. We could forget that we are ALL the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We could forget that sacrifice, the giving of ourselves is central to biblical worship.
I wonder what would happen if one Sunday we came to church and found that there was no clergy, no choir, no organist, no sidesperson, no order of service. With all the comforts stripped away. What would we do? Turn around and go home? Or would we sit down say the Lord’s Prayer and then go home? And what would we do if that happened Sunday after Sunday? Spending the entire time in silence, I think that would be very painful, learning not to rely on the music. How long would it take before we would bring our prayers, our readings, our thanksgivings, our praises and our songs? How long would it take for the excitement to come back as we worshipped from the heart and we met with God?
Unlike the Old Testament days we don’t need to sacrifice sheep and goats today and certainly no sacrifice on our part can earn God’s forgiveness or our salvation; the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has done that for all time. Yet we ARE called to bring sacrifices in worship. We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices - this is OUR spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). We are called to offer our sacrifice of praise. Amen.
How do you feel about be a participant in our worship and God being the audience?
What part/s of the service do you find helpful in your worship to God? (i.e. prayers, hymns, reading/s etc.)
What do you find unhelpful?
Is there something you would like to see included? Or happen more often?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Sunday 13 September 2009 Exodus 25:1-9, John 1:1-14, Bruce

In the book of Genesis we read that in the Garden of Eden God looks to walk in the cool of the day with the man and woman, to dwell them, to share his life with them.

In the Book of Revelation we hear of a new Heaven and a new Earth, and that “the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them”.

Back in Genesis 12, we read that God promises to Abraham three things: that he will have descendants or “seed”, that he will give them a land to live in, and that he will share with them a relationship of blessing.

By the time we get to the book of Exodus, we find the Hebrews as slaves in Egypt. Their survival is under threat, they are far from the land promised to them, and they are definitely not experiencing blessings.

The first third of the book tells of the struggle to be free. The plagues, the Passover, the Red Sea, the walk out into the wilderness. The middle third tells of arrival at Sinai and the giving of the Law: God has rescued them when they are far from perfect, and the work begins to transform them into a people who are capable of having a relationship with God; however, this culminates in the disastrous episode of the Golden Calf.

One of the reasons that the people sin by asking for the Golden Calf is that they are fed up because Moses has been up on the mountain with God for so long – forty days. He has been receiving the Law (the Ten Commandments plus associated regulations). He has also been receiving detailed instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. This is a glorified tent – a worship complex where offerings could be made to wash away sin and to express thanksgiving and praise. The offerings were to be made by the Levites and priests on behalf of the people.

After walking past the Altar of Burnt Offering and the Laver (where priests could ritually wash), you entered the Holy Place. Here were a lampstand which was always lit, a table with special bread to be offered before God, and an Incense Altar, and curtain, leading to the Most Holy Place – the Holy of Holies. This inner sanctum could only be entered by the High Priest, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he offered the blood of a solemn sacrifice for the sins of the people. In the Most Holy Place was a special box, the Ark of the Covenant, covered in gold on the inside and the outside. It contained the stone tablets of the Law, a sample of the special bread that God had provided miraculously for the people, and Aaron’s Rod that had budded. The lid was a solid piece of gold, with two cherubim or angels moulded onto it – the Mercy Seat, where God himself would allow his glory, his Shekina, to be seen.

And the point of all this?

First, Moses is told that what he is to construct is a copy, a blueprint, of what is in heaven. So when we offer up prayer and praise to God, it is as if we were throwing incense on an altar, offering bread, lighting lamps. The difference is that instead of earthly priests, Jesus is now our great High Priest, and the one great sacrifice on the cross has replaced all the others, and we are forgiven.

Second, the Tabernacle was portable. When the presence of God moved on, the priests would pack up the Tabernacle and carry it, moving in obedience to the way that God led them. Then the people would pack up their camp and the whole nation would move through the wilderness, on their way to the land promised to them. Although the Tabernacle was a blueprint of heaven, and the pattern was later reproduced in the groundplan and furnishing of the temples in Jerusalem, the people were never to forget that they were the pilgrim people of God. We should never be wedded too firmly to any particular way of being or doing church, God may want to move us on. And we should have confidence that where he leads us, he will be with us.

Third, God wanted to ensure his people were blessed by making his dwelling among them. People say that the God the Old Testament is fierce, remote, judgmental, and hard to know. But this was never his intention. Rather, God has always described himself as Father. He looks for a relationship of love and trust. The problem was the people, who were determined to go their own way. The Tabernacle was the way that a holy God could live in the midst of a sinful people.

After the incident of the golden calf, there is judgment and restitution and the last part of the book describes how the Tabernacle is constructed, how the priests are ordained and the worship begun. And God turns up. His presence in the Most Holy Place is so great, so bright, that neither Moses nor any of the people can enter the tent. God is truly living among his people.

Of course, there are many more stories to be told of the waywardness of God’s people, as they eventually enter the land, establish a kingdom, and after many years are conquered and taken into captivity. Throughout these centuries there is the refrain: “Is God among us?” “Are we his people?”

The answer comes in the Word made flesh, Jesus. He came to his own, and his own would not receive him, but to as many as received him, he gave the right to become children of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Literally, he set up his tent among us, he tabernacled himself among us. We are meant to understand that all that was promised and foretold in the Old Testament stories has now been fulfilled in Jesus. “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Instead of the Shekina, hidden behind a curtain in the opulent but mysterious Most Holy Place, Jesus has come to each one of us, to bring blessing and the light of his presence in our hearts.

This is the message for one who is to be baptised. We are pilgrim people, travelling with God, and he delights to make his home not just among us but actually within us as we believe in him. Our whole lives are centred on him. We use the pictorial language of sacrifice and priesthood to describe how we need to be forgiven and how God in Jesus has given us forgiveness and a new life in him. The challenge is to join the ranks of those who are seeking to allow this reality to break into their lives today, and every day.

Questions for Discussion
1. Why was it a problem for God to be in close contact with the people, and what did he do about it?
2. What relevance does all this have for the life of Christians and the church today?
3. “We have seen his glory – full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Some have spoken of God’s grace as his kindness and mercy, and his truth as his judgment on sin; what does this mean to you?
4. What one thing will you take from this topic to help you live in the next week?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Sunday 6 September 2009 Camp Talk by Kim

We are all made of Stardust BUT whose side are we on?
Readings: John 3:16 and Revelation 8:6-9:2
Equipment: A candle, matches and a saucer.
Who is a science-friction or Star Trek addict? Who has travelled to the stars in their imagination? Did you know that we all came from the stars; that everyone of us is made of stardust? Would you like to see some stardust?
Action: Light a candle and hold a saucer over the flame. Show the black deposit on the saucer.
What is this?..... Carbon. Holding the saucer over the flame prevented all the carbon from burning and formed a tin layer on the saucer. This is stardust!
When a star comes near the end of its lifecycle, it throws out carbon, one of the essential building blocks of the universe. When God made man of the ‘dust of the earth’, he used the same material that made the stars, and planets, and everything that we see in the starry night sky!
That is amazing to think about. Even more amazing is to think that the Bible says we shall still be alive long after our own sun has grown into a red giant, consumed the earth, and died itself. This is the promise that Jesus made in one of the best-loved verses in the bible.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. God gave his Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
‘Eternal Life.’ That does not mean just existing forever like a speck of stardust, it means the real you outlasting the stars in a life beyond our imagination. That is better than any sci-fi story ever written!
BUT the question is who side are we on?
Who has seen a shooting star? Who has witness the Northern Lights?

Pieces of rock from space hit the earth every day. As they enter the atmosphere they burn up, creating the brief flash of a shooting star. Some are large enough for bits to land on earth. About once every 1,000 years a rock nearly 100 metres (300 feet) in diameter strikes our planet, big enough to cause a tidal wave if it lands in the sea.
But what would happen if a really large meteor was on collision course with the earth?

Actually, it is not a matter of if but when. The last time it happened was maybe less than 4,000 years ago, around 2350 BC, a mere eye-blink in cosmic time. At that time there seems to have been a great environmental catastrophe, and civilisations collapsed. Mud-brick buildings in northern Syria appear to have been destroyed by what is described as a ‘blast from the sky’.
So could it happen again? The bad news is, yes, it could. The good news is that a collision with a massive asteroid, over 1km across, is more rare, happening only once in a million years. But an asteroid that size could create a global catastrophe, wiping out many species of plants and animals.
Is that what killed the dinosaurs? Around 65 million years ago they disappeared, together with about 70% of all species then living on earth. This is known as the K-T event (the Cretaceous-Tertiary Mass Extinction event). Could it have been caused by an asteroid or comet hitting the earth? In 1990 came evidence that it was. A 65 million-year-old crater, 180 Kilometres (112 miles) wide, was discovered under layers of sediment in the Yucatan Peninsula region of Mexico.
It would have taken an asteroid ten kilometres (6.5 miles) wide to make this crater – big enough to cause massive global disruption.
The last book in the bible, the book of Revelation, describes some great environmental catastrophes, including what sounds like a description of the earth being struck, perhaps by a chain of comet pieces like those that spectacularly hit Jupiter in 1994.
Read Revelation 8:6-9:2
Revelation 8:6-9:2 (New International Version)
The Trumpets
Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night. As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: "Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!" The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.

It is a pretty terrifying picture. Christians have different ideas about what it means. Some think it is a prediction of what will actually happen in the future. Some think it is using coded picture language to describe the persecution suffered by Christians in the Roman Empire.
Great War
But everyone agrees in general what the book of Revelation is about: there is a great war going on between the powers of good and evil. In the end, God will deal once and for all with evil. But each person must decide for themselves, which side they are on. Many people would prefer not to think about that decision. They bury themselves in their work, or fill their lives with TV and music and entertainment so that they don’t have to think. But just doing nothing allows the evil around us to grow.
For each one of us personally, it makes no difference whether we are hit by a twelve-mile-wide asteroid or a number 1 bus! One thing is for sure: we will each meet our own personal end sometime within the next 100 years (some sooner than others!).
If a big asteroid is headed in our direction, we won’t be able to duck it and we can’t duck the big question either: WHOSE SIDE ARE WE ON?
1. “I believe in God the Father …” What do you think the two readings quoted tell us about the nature of God?
2. If you were asked by a neighbour or friend to sum up the message of the sermon, what would you say?