Friday, 24 February 2012

SERMON. 26 FEBRUARY 2012. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? 1 Peter 3 : 18 – 22 Mark 1 : 9 – 15, Robert

The two readings set for today invite us to consider Lent within the framework, first, of the beginning of Jesus’ public earthly ministry, and, second, its triumphant and glorious end.

This Gospel reading from Mark 1: 9-15 tells us how it began. Jesus, aged (we believe) about 30, hears of John’s preaching and baptizing in the River Jordan. He perceives this as his call, goes out to John and is baptized. At that moment the Holy Spirit descends upon him and fills him, and this mighty endowment both signals the start of his ministry and empowers him to carry it out. Jesus receives the clear sign of God’s approval and blessing. That same mighty Holy Spirit then literally drives him out into the desert to confront Satan and the powers that oppose and resist the will of God.

Mark doesn’t say so in so many words, but we are to understand that (in that encounter) Jesus wins a decisive victory, and is so enabled to begin his ministry of teaching, healing and exorcism. He is able to announce that the moment has at long last arrived when God himself is making his appearance on earth to exercise his rule and achieve victory over the powers of sin and evil – that authority being personified in the person of Jesus himself. That is the beginning.

Our Epistle, 1 Peter 3: 18-22 tells us of the final end victory of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday, his descent to the place of the dead where he preached the good news (the Gospel), his resurrection from the dead in triumph, and finally his ascension into heaven to take his rightful place, and where all spirits, angels, and powers come under his supreme authority.

So there you have the framework – the beginning and the end. We now have some 40 days (or about 6 weeks) to reflect on that journey from the River Jordan to the empty tomb, as Jesus’ decisive ministry on earth is worked out step by step until (at the greatest possible cost to Jesus) final victory is won, and the complete, eternal salvation is forever secured for everyone who trusts in him and embraces that victory personally.



If we were to read on in Mark’s Gospel we would find Jesus (so to speak) setting out his stall. He says that the day of God’s coming to earth has arrived, and that this is ‘good news’ for all who hear it and believe. It is also the day of judgment of all the powers of evil and injustice, and everything that militates against our wholeness and well-being. And for those of us caught up and entangled in these webs of evil and destructiveness, it is the good news of forgiveness, healing, hope, freedom and new life.

And to prove that these are not idle words, Mark illustrates with five carefully chosen and distinctively different types of miracle.

First, Jesus encounters a man in a synagogue whose life is being utterly ruined by an evil spirit. Jesus drives the spirit out, and the man walks away free and whole.

Second, Simon Peter’s mother in law is sick with a fever, and Jesus heals her.

Third, a leper - the ultimate outcast in that society – with an incurable disease which was also believed to be contagious – is completely healed and restored to his rightful place in the community.

Fourth, a man suffering from paralysis is completely cured and given new life through the forgiveness of his sins.

Fifth, Levi, who is a tax collector and thus regarded as an outcast both by Jewish society and religion, is called by Jesus to join him, and to be included in his specially chosen followers.

These five very different miracles are intended to encompass and illustrate for the reader both the content of the ‘good news’ that Jesus was proclaiming, and its results in practice. They illustrate the broad scope of the good news. As one commentator (Jeffrey John) sums it up, it is a story of ‘healing, liberation and inclusion’.


Now these may seem to us rather rarefied examples, usually far removed from our everyday experience in the 21st century. But let’s try re-stating what Jesus was doing in his earthly ministry in a different way.

Jesus was touching the untouchable – those from whom others drew back and shunned. He was releasing those imprisoned in webs of evil, whether by habit, addiction, circumstance, relationship or indeed any way of life which prevented their ability to live truly whole and wholesome lives. Jesus was taking notice of those in society who seemed shrouded in cloaks of invisibility, and whom people just passed by. Jesus was cleansing the unclean so that they could put all the past behind them. Jesus was reaching out to those who were regarded as unreachable. Jesus was observing the outcast and the lonely and inviting them to join the party. Jesus was showing immense and practical love to the unloved and the unlovable. Jesus was healing the sick. Jesus was giving new hope and a new future to those in despair, and drawing close to the inwardly grieving and broken hearted.

If we express it like that, which of us cannot place ourselves somewhere on the list of people Jesus came to heal and save? Which of us does not inwardly long to hear the good news that Jesus came to bring to the world?

And which of us does not discern here a challenge to reach out ourselves, in the name of Jesus, to those around us whom we see to be in need of caring and prayer and love?


I want to suggest that we use Lent this year to reflect day by day on the ministry of Jesus as he journeys from Galilee to Jerusalem, and ask him to meet us at our particular point of need. Ask him to show you what is the true desire of your heart. Ask him to heal your deep hurt. And if you are praying about a problem that seems to you the most important thing, ask him to show you whether perhaps, underneath that presenting problem, there is something deeper. And if that is addressed or changed or healed, many other good things will flow from it, and move you in the direction of the wholeness of life to which he calls each one of us. Jesus came to confront and defeat all that spoils the wonderful and fruitful life he intends for us. When any of that happens, it is for you - surely – a miracle.

AND, if – in the name of Jesus – you reach out to someone in need with love and prayer and practical help, then you yourself will find you are working a miracle in someone else’s life, and be a bringer of blessing to that person. May God give us eyes and ears to see and to hear and act in Jesus’ name.

Do you believe in miracles? If we will take time, and pay attention, and listen in prayer to what Jesus is saying to us personally, what a miracle could happen in your life. Miracles are not just for people of long-ago. I was reminded recently of a song which says: ‘I believe in miracles – they happen every day’. Jesus told us that he had come to give us life in all its fullness.

Would it not be wonderful to arrive at Easter this year having experienced – in whatever form it may take – a kind of resurrection miracle in our own lives, because Jesus has touched our life with healing and blessing – new hope, new life, and made us a source of blessing to others. You and I are intended to embrace for ourselves the triumphant victory of the Easter resurrection. My prayer is that each one of us will experience a miracle in our lives this Lent. As you come to communion this morning, ask the Lord to do something new and wonderful in your life in the coming days. Surely He will answer.


1. Do you observe Lent in some particular way? Discuss in your group, if you belong to one, or consider prayerfully for yourself. Can you make these coming weeks more spiritually constructive so that – when Easter comes – you will have experienced some kind of spiritual growth and resurrection in your own life. If in a group, compare ideas.

2. You hear people say sometimes: “I feel so much better, it’s like a miracle!” Or “My life has really changed for the better, it’s like a miracle!” Does a miracle need to be ‘supernatural’ in a scientific sense? If Jesus meets you in prayer in a way that is a life-changing experience, would that not be a miracle? Do you think he is willing and able to do this in your life if you ask him? Discuss and share encouraging experiences.

3. The ‘miracles’ that Jesus can work in your life often begin with a small change. And a small change can sometimes set off a chain reaction. Bring the problem(s) you are most aware of (however small) to Jesus in prayer and ask for his help and see what happens! Discuss how you can make this Lent an adventure in prayer and its answer. Keep a note, and share wherever appropriate with those you trust and who pray alongside you.

4. Consider how you can discern better those around you who are perhaps lonely, unloved, in special need of some kind, and how you can reach out to them, probably in some quite simple ways – but ways which may make a difference beyond your imagining.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sunday 19 February 2012, The Word, Colossians 1:15-20, John 1:1-14, Bruce

In a late change to the running order for our service today, I reinstated the second verse of our last hymn. We will now sing “At his voice creation sprang at once to sight”. Jesus is The Word, the logos, the revelation of God. He is the image, the eikon, of God. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Creation is the solidified expression of who God is. Except that for many of us, creation is like lava flows – cold solid rock that only in our imagination reminds us of the fire and passion and love of our Father God. Many look at the state of the world, this whole world system, and see chaos and disorder and lack of harmony, and find it hard to see an all-wise all-loving all-powerful God at the back of it. Paul explains: Romans 1:18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” It is not a big step from there to “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.”

And thus Jesus comes as light into our darkness. The process of creation that he began is continuing, and so he constantly refers to himself as doing the work that his Father has given him (John 5:36). He is the living expression of the love of God that led him to give his Son so that everyone who believes in Jesus should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). He is The Word, the continuing point of contact between us and our Father God. I suggest that this plays out in three ways, the Word, the World and in Worship.

The Word, the written scriptures, are not themselves divine, but they point us to the Living Word himself. The stories and teachings contained in this book are a gateway to the experiences of others who have encountered God. As we listen or read, we understand more and we allow our thinking to be shaped so that we become more like Jesus, the living Word. Just to play a cd or mp3 recording of the scriptures is like giving our minds and souls a refreshing cleansing bath that transforms us. whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8” You cannot dose yourself with anything better than the Word of God, even if you do not understand or retain every single sentence.

The World, itself, as we have seen points us to the reality of God. The problem is that our view of creation has become distorted. We were placed here to cultivate and tend to creation, to be the park-keeper in the garden but we have come to view all of creation as there for our personal benefit. This extends to our treatment of other people, so that we are perpetrators of evil as well as innocent victims. We are part of the problem. Thus Jesus, The Word, comes “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace though his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20). As our relationship with Jesus grows and deepens, so we see God’s blessed hand revealed in all of creation around us. Heaven above is softer blue, Earth around is sweeter green; Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen.” (G. W. Robinson) This is a process, not an event; as we grow in confidence in Jesus, so he allows us to encounter more of the pains and difficulties of this fractured creation. In our prayers and practical works we seek for his kingdom to come, his will to be done, and we as we do this we grow in perseverance and character. We learn to view The World through lens of The Word who created it and has redeemed it though his blood.

Worship is our proper response. Peter writes “ 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead ... 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.... 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty,
that we should at all times and in all places
give thanks unto thee,
O Lord, holy Father,
almighty, everlasting God,
through Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord.

May the red hot lava of God’s love for the world flow in our praises and worship as we encounter the living Word and grow in him. As we read or listen to his word, or as we walk in the wonders of creation, or as we gather to sing, read and worship together, let us be open for all that all that he has for us, open for all that he would teach us, open for every person who would seek after him, and open to follow him wherever he leads us.

Discussion Starters

1. What have been the most important ways that you have learned about God?

2. In what ways has your experience of God grown recently, and how?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sunday 12 February 2012, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Matthew 18:15-20, Bruce

In Matthew 22 we read that 37 Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There is debate about how often Paul quoted directly from the words of Jesus, but my contention this morning is that Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church is very much in the spirit of these words. Jesus singles out two commandments from the Hebrew scriptures (Deuteronomy 6:5 & Leviticus 19:18) that encapsulate all the teaching we have about how to live. Although they are two, they work together and in keeping one we find ourselves keeping the other.

How do we love God? By trust, by faith, by expressing worship and adoration. This is our main purpose and excitement. After all, we have a brief time on earth to practice, but then we have all eternity to join in the songs of the angels and all those who have gone before us, singing Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, as we gather around the throne. O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height. And in doing this, we show his love for those he has placed us to live amongst.

Therefore it mattered that in the church in Corinth they were more interested in displaying their own apparent knowledge or wisdom. It mattered that in the communion services they displayed wealth and privilege and boorish manners. It mattered that in their worship they acted in ways that seemed completely out of touch with the surrounding culture, thus setting up barriers and making it more difficult for outsiders to come in. They were not open for all.

We have seen over previous weeks that God has given to each one of us at least one gift of the Holy Spirit for the common good, that we are to see ourselves as different members of one body with our own unique part to play, that the gifts we are given are a mix of what we would consider natural and supernatural, but that they are given to build up the church, and of greatest importance that none of this has any use if we do not love. We have observed that the sometimes puzzling gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues seem to have been overused in unregulated ways so that worship would remind one of a kindergarten, and would hinder outsiders from encountering God and growing in him. My understanding is that Paul wants to encourage responsible use of these gifts, but only in ways that show love and respect for God and concern for the outsider.

Now we come to Paul’s summary of his careful argument over these three chapters, and we note two principles.

First, All Involved. “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of revelation, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” This does not sound like the way that we run a Parish Communion, with pre-chosen and carefully rehearsed hymns, readings and a sermon planned in advance, with certain authorised people to “preside” at the Lord’s Table. I wonder if I call for a show of hands – what shall we sing next? Does anyone want to share a thought that has come to them while they were reading the scriptures? Have you felt when praying that God has a message to pass on to us? I could come among you now with the hand-held microphone. I wonder how we would respond to that?

The reality, however, is that we have probably selected this style of worship as it is what we are most comfortable with. To gather several dozen people and engage in collective worship almost necessitates a certain degree of formality. We should be aware, however, that this style is not the only one, and it has not been specially commanded by God. It can even be a stumbling block to outsiders. Imagine introducing the concept of eating to someone who has never seen it. If you take them to a formal dinner with special etiquette, where there are frequent stylised toasts, and it is made obvious if you use the wrong cutlery, they may be put off. They need to know that there is also a family Sunday lunch, and a casual supper around the kitchen table. We do all of these, but at different times. We should consider carefully the extent to which our ways of worship show love for God and for our neighbour.

One way that we try to live these words out today is to consciously do church in different ways at different times. Paul’s command that we all take an active part in worship makes sense when we meet in smaller groups of eight to ten people; we can all have our voices heard and make a meaningful contribution. This is not a different church from our Sunday service, or an extra activity to be shoe-horned into our busy schedules, but the flip side or completion, just as the two great commandments are to be taken as one. I will be delighted to discuss with you further how you could take this thought forward.

The second thought is that in our openness to all, we have order, a proper sense that we are acting in submission to God, and for the good of others. It is possible that you have nodded through the talk of tongues, revelations, prophecy and the rest because you cannot see how it is relevant to you, but you are very interested to hear what I will say about women in church. I would merely urge that you spend time asking God to help you be open for all that he has for you in the area of spiritual gifts. You might otherwise be in the position of a driver who is unaware that there are fourth and fifth gears to be used, or a cook who knows about the hotplate but is ignorant of the oven. No wonder we sometimes wonder, in the deepest recesses of the heart, if being a Christian is all it is cracked up to be.

Just as driver revels in the use of fifth gear but should not exceed the speed limit, and the cook should enjoy the use of the oven but take care not to burn everything to a crisp, so worship should be exciting, joyous, honouring to God and a blessing to all who attend, whether regular attendees or visitors. Paul sets some guidelines to help us. He encourages use and experimentation with spiritual gifts in worship, but always in the context of order, courtesy, mutual understanding and submission. He also talks about the conduct of women in worship. It seems that many people feel very happy to bring their preconceived ideas to these verses.

These verses read very strangely to us in the 21st century west, and are controversial. We need to be aware of their cultural context, and also the ways that we are influenced by our own culture as well.

There are some in the worldwide church who would interpret them to mean that women should literally refrain from speaking in church, meaning to take part formally in the service. We should note however that Paul talks in chapter 11 of women being careful to cover their heads when they pray or utter prophecies – and this may well indicate that women did take a part in worship services. This has obvious relevance as the debate continues about women bishops in the Church of England, and as we note that all the folk going forward for various forms of ministry in this church community are women.

It has been pointed out that these verses make perfect sense in a community that has carried on the synagogue practice of seating men and women on opposite sides of the meeting. It may very well be that there was a problem at Corinth with engaged, inquisitive women throwing questions and comments across the room. In a culture much more akin to what we see today in the near east than to our own, this would have been profoundly shocking. Put this together with unbridled and unwise use of the good gifts of the Spirit that God has given to us, and a general free-for-all at the Eucharist, and we can imagine that love for God and for neighbour would possibly have seemed to be at a low ebb.

Let us seek to be open for all that God has for us and for all who seek him. Let us be Christ centred, personally seeking to be individually disciples, resolved to use the gifts he has given us to be servants of others, striving to do all that we can to build up the community of believers, and passionate to see others brought in to know his love.

Questions to promote discussion

1. What do you imagine would have struck you as most strange about worship services in Corinth? And do you think they would think of ours at St Michael’s?

2. What makes it easier for you to take part in worship?

3. Thinking more widely, how much do you know about the spiritual gifts that you have received through the Holy Spirit? Have you taken a test yet?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sermon for Sunday 5th February 2012 – 1 Corinthians 14:13-25 (and beyond a little)

Why come to church? We, God’s people assemble for one purpose – to worship God. Yes?
We come to worship Him by our prayers and singing (v. 15) by the teaching and preaching (v.3). Worship should result in bringing glory to God and a blessing for God’s people (v.3), and fear and conviction for sinners (vv. 23-25). But for these things to happen, Jesus Christ must be Lord of our lives, and we must yield to the Holy Spirit. If we come to church to display our spirituality, we will not only miss blessing ourselves but also cause others to miss the blessing. We come to honour Him. We also come to edify each other. A key word in this chapter is edification (vv 3-5, 12, 17, 26), which means ‘building up’. A worship service should lift up the Lord and build up
the saints, not puff up the participants.

We are all aware of the many different languages throughout this world. Indeed you only have to pause for few minutes and listen to people walking by in Park Street speaking, to realise that we have Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Asian, South African dialects going on in Camberley. One could say we need a present day Pentecost in Camberley, another Paul speaking in ‘tongues’ proclaiming the good news to all in Camberley’s Park Street. It’s certainly a challenge for churches in Camberley. How do we help the people from foreign lands express their faith in Camberley?

While I was working in other countries throughout the world, I encounter many different languages but I made sure I could order steak and salad and four white wines in the language needed that day. I hasten to add that the four white wines were not just for me! But most of the time we would get by with sign language and our crude attempt of speaking in the language and English.

The disciples were the first to speak in tongues on the Day of Pentecost. People often think that on that day the disciples were speaking human languages, because the people could understand what they were saying. The passage in the book of Acts writes about the many languages that were spoken on the day by the disciples. But there had to be something more than that because there were two different things taking place that day: the miracle of speaking and hearing: The first was the speaking in tongues. The second was the enabling of some to understand(interpretation) the tongues. Not everyone understood the tongues, because some onlookers made fun of the disciples and accused them of being drunk (Acts 2:13); this clearly shows that they did not understand the tongues. And the ones who did understand the tongues were bemused because each one heard only their own native language not the languages of the other people (v. 6). Each person who heard, the disciples praising God in their own language and they could not figure out how this was possible. Sometimes this happens today. The miracle was in the hearing of the people.

Speaking in tongues has been talked about in Christianity for thousands of years. Yet with all the talk about speaking in tongues, few understand what it's all about. It is the least understood subject among believers. People will be surprise to find that the Bible mentions speaking in tongues thirty-five times. That is a lot, so this subject should not be cast lightly aside as unimportant to the Church. God does not fill His book with things of minor importance.

Many people inaccurately define speaking in tongues as "speaking gibberish" or "talking nonsense." The truth is, speaking in tongues is the most intelligent, perfect language in the universe. Why because it is God's language.

What language do you suppose people speak in heaven? Languages are given their name
based on the countries they come from. For example, English comes from England. Spanish comes from Spain. Italian comes from Italy. Tongues are the heavenly language. It is what is spoken in heaven; the only difference is that the people in heaven understand what they are saying. Here on earth Paul says, "For anyone who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understand him; he utters mysteries with his spirit" (v.2).

Jesus says that those who believe in Him will "speak in new tongues" (Mark 16:17). The word "new" means appearing for the first time. No one hadspoken these languages before. It is only appropriate that "new tongues" should be spoken by those of the "new birth." It is natural and normal to speak in the language of your birth. We are born again from above, we therefore should speak the language from above - that language is called "new tongues."

Why speak in tongues? Paul writes, "He who speaks in tongues edifies himself...I would like every one of you to speak in tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5). With this positive statement about tongues, why do so few Christians speak in tongues? The answer could be because there is very little sound, logical and scriptural teaching as to the scope and value of speaking in tongues.

So what does ‘speaking in tongues’ do for us, for you and me? It does exactly what the bible says it does. ‘He who speaks in tongues edifies himself." The word "edify" means to "build up" or "charge up"--much like charging up a battery. We all need a spiritual charge. All of us at times
feel spiritually drained. One of God's ways to charge your spirit is through speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is the physical, biblical evidence that one is baptised in the Holy Spirit. We should not settle for anything less than the scriptural evidence.

In our passage today, Paul is talking about public ministry gifts that are manifested in the church. He is not talking about tongues as the initial sign of the baptism in the Spirit, nor is he talking about tongues as a private, devotional, prayer language. You can recognise this by simply looking at the language Paul uses concerning speaking in tongues. In this chapter he calls
speaking in tongues "different kinds of tongues" (see 12:10, 28). "Different kinds" means "not the usual." The usual kind of speaking in tongues is a language no man understands or interprets. However, speaking in "different kinds" of tongues enables the speaker or someone else to recognise the meaning of the tongue and thereby interpreting it.

So when Paul ask the question, "Do all speak in tongues?", he is referring to the public manifestation of tongues which enables a person gifted in interpretation to speak out the meaning of the tongue. Not all have been given this gift of "different kinds" of tongues.

In 1 Cor 14, Paul corrects the misuse of tongues in the church. He tells them to stop the practice gathering "the whole church [so] everyone [can] speak in tongues" (v. 23). This clearly shows us that everyone in the Corinthian church was speaking in tongues. Most of them should have allowed those gifted in the "different kinds" of tongues to exercise their gift, and the rest should simply "keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God" (v. 28).

Now, there seems to be an acceptance in many churches that charismatic gifts like prophecy
and speaking in tongues are for today. But are we actually seeing a desire to exercise them? How many of those who believe in the gifts of tongues actually pray in tongues every day? How many prophesy? I want to suggest that there is a discrepancy between Paul’s Church and the Church today, and I believe we’ve subconsciously believed certain untruths. The first is that the manifest
presence of God is an optional extra for God’s people. And the second untruth is that the gifts of the Spirit are optional extras for God’s people. Both of the untruths are refuted by Scripture. God’s gifts are for all his people and God wants each of us to have a desire to receive and use them.

The Gift of Tongues is for all and God is willing us to use the gift to edify ourselves and others as well as to worship Him and bring Him glory. A gift for private and individual use as well as for Corporate use and when used in a church setting should be used with caution and care – being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Whether private or corporate to edify – build up. Should be not be exercising the Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation today? The Heavenly Language is not something we should be afraid of – indeed we should embrace the fact that God want to speak to us as individuals as well as a corporate body. However, we should always ensure that we enable God to speak without hindrance from ourselves. AMEN.