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To live or or to die; Philippians 1:21-23

Years ago I was at an evening service in a church in Haarlem and the preacher that evening preached about sin.

I don’t remember a word of what he said, but what I remember was his enthusiasm and happiness with which he was delivering his sermon. A little odd I thought, because his whole attitude did not correspond with the subject of his sermon.

Of course we cannot expect from a preacher to mimic his personalty with the subject of his sermon, but a little bit of similarity between the two is normal. Imagine if I would be using the same Bible reading for a sermon one day for a funeral and the next day for a wedding (as it happened), it would at least require some difference in attitude of delivery.

But, in this case the sermon about sin was delivered in a hurray fashion. Later that evening during coffee after the service I learned that the preacher’s first child was born just that afternoon. Now I understood why he was delivering his sermon with such a happy mind-set, because he was more taken by his personal circumstances than by the subject of his sermon.

When I read these words from Paul in his letter to the Philippians, saying; ‘to die is gain’ and ‘having the desire to depart, and to be with Christ, for it is far better’, I’m under the impression that Paul’s words are somewhat influenced by the position he was in during the writing of this letter. Imprisoned and perhaps disillusioned by the restrictions of being in prison for having done nothing wrong. In such circumstances it is not a surprise that Paul would rather be with the Lord and free from suffering and imprisonment. 

But Paul would not be the first in the Bible who would utter similar words in difficult circumstances. 

Moses in Number 11:14-15 says; ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

And about Elijah, after the miracle of the burning of the sacrifices on the altar when God sent fire to consume the offering, it says in 1 Kings 19:4; ‘He sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Not to forget Jeremiah who is also complaining about the bitter and difficult circumstances he finds himself in and says in Jeremiah 15:10; ‘Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.’ 

In the light of all what Paul has experienced and all the difficult circumstances he went through and all the sufferings he met, his words wanting to be with the Lord are understandable.

Presumably we all have gone through difficult circumstances in our lives at a certain point and perhaps even lost hope in what this life could still bring us. But, then we can learn from Paul and from Moses, and from Elaiah and Jeremiah and from Jesus Christ. Because in all the difficult and challenging circumstances they were in, they kept their eyes on God and did not abandon their ministry. 

When we look to the letter of Paul to the Philippains as a whole, it is still accounted for being one of the most encouraging letters of Paul. The letter to the Philippians is often called a happy letter, because it is full of praise although interspersed with admonition, but overall it is a letter of joy to the Philippians.

Even with the difficulties we might face in the light of the Covid-19 restrictions, God's support and encouragement remains. If we, like Moses, Elijah, Jeremiaha and Paul, find our lives on a hard place and start to moan about our circumstances we can be encouraged that God did not abandon them and gave them the strength to continue.

It is really true; in Christ we are more than conquerors, even in the most challenging circumstances, as Paul is our vivid example and encourager to remain loyal to Christ and walk daily with our God.

Hope , Romans 15 vs 5-7 &13

In his letter to the Romans Paul is writing to the Church in Roman, giving them instructions on how to live their lives Gods way, together in Christian community. Although written nearly 2000 years ago Paul’s instructions still apply to us today:

Paul writes that we must have the same attitude to each other as Jesus had when he was on earth. His example is there for us to read in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus was  loving, forgiving and inclusive. Reading the Bible gives us encouragement as the Old Testament tells us of Gods promises to his people and the New Testament shows His love in action with the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We are to have fortitude, which is much more than simply being patient. it is an attitude to ‘triumphantly cope with life’ because of the hope we have in the love of God. And we are to live harmoniously together, which does not mean that we won’t disagree and even argue, but what unites us in our Christian faith is much bigger than any differences that may divide us.

Our hope isn’t just optimism that doesn’t see difficulties and is certainly not only the prerogative of the young. Christian hope throughout the centuries has seen everything and endured but does not despair. Because our hope isn’t founded on human spirit, or human goodness or human achievements (although these can be wonderful), our hope is in the power of God.

We have all heard it said that a situation, or even a person, is hopeless. Why? Because human beings cannot see the solution. But..and this can be an exciting opportunity....it could be when we ask for Gods help. It could be when we turn to someone greater then ourselves. And it is when we ask for Gods help, when we listen to him, when we allow him in, that His blessings come. Noone is hopeless who is loved by God, and no situation is hopeless when the Holy Spirit is with us. This is our hope; that nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ our saviour.

Sermon about forgiveness

Forgiveness.

When Jesus told the parable of the unforgiving servant of the small debt in compare to the large debt, it was a way of speaking people understood very well in those days. It was a very good traditional and natural teaching method. The point in the parables of Jesus is that although they are not historical, at the same time they are true to life. For this reason the exaggeration in this parable might sound absurd, but the underlying truth is very real.  

Besides, when Jesus told this parable it had some reference to the Old Testament. In Genesis 4:24 is says; ‘If Cain is avenged 7-fold, truly Lamech 77-fold’. The number 7 indicates the full number. And whereas Lamech the son of Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel, is the symbol of avenge in unmeasurable times, Jesus is the symbol of forgiveness in unmeasurable times. The one who is obsessed with punishment stands here in opposition to the One Who forgives.

A word study into the original Greek for forgiveness will not be of much help as it one of those words that is used very frequently in the ancient Greek language, with even so many different meanings. Essentially the word means 'letting go' and other equivalent meanings. 

Because Jesus lived in a Hebrew-like speaking environment, the original Hebrew word might help us. In the old Testament there are 2 words mainly used for forgiving and forgiveness. One word describes the act of lifting up to describe forgiveness, and the other word in Hebrew means to cover up or cover over, but with expiation in mind.

It is the act of expiation in forgiving, which has been neglected in our contemporary society. When you look up forgiveness on the internet it now says: Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. 

One could argue that this is not the explanation of forgiveness as it meant to be in the context of the Old and New Testament. Forgiveness in the OT resulted in reconciliation again with God. That’s why the Jews made offerings in their Temple, because it forgave their sins and reconciled them to God. 

That concept of forgiveness leading to reconciliation is not changed in the New Testament. Except that the offer to be made for sin is once and for all done through the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Many years ago I regularly went to the Church of the Nazarene in Haarlem. It’s a Christian denomination from the Weslyan or Methodist movement of the 19C in the USA. They put an emphasis on holy living and in line with this principle at a sermon the preacher told the following story.

A couple went to a prison to offer forgiveness to the criminal who had harmed them as what they believed was their Christian duty. Instead of accepting this forgiveness he laughed them in the face and assaulted them with his words. 

It is certain that at this meeting not any form of reconciliation has taken place. Even though the couple might have forgiven the criminal, that forgiveness was rejected and so essentially nothing happened that could lead to an opening of a new relationship between the criminal and the couple. What has happened might be in accordance of how forgiveness is explained in this day and age, but it is not forgiveness in Biblical terms because it not with reconciliation in mind between two parties.

Reconciliation takes place after forgiveness is asked and received. In the same way God is reconciling Himself with us after we have accepted the forgiveness we have received through Jesus Christ. To be reconciled with God is not an act of forgiveness on our side, but from God Himself. Through Christ we have received forgiveness and reconciliation, which as the parable shows is given unmeasurable times.

Whereas Lamech is the symbol of avenge, Jesus Christ is God’s Instrument of forgiveness. Forgiveness in the fullest sense of the word; leading to reconciliation between Gon and each one of us. 

Hans

Sermon Love as 'ghesed'

Romans 13:8-end

Love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said the same in the famous passage in Mark 12:29-31. 

The words we always use at the Prayer of Penitence during the Holy Communion service :29 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Not only in the Bible, but in nearly everything it is all about love. Love is in the air, love is in the music, love is the keyword for our society, love in the family, love is now the keyword for describing God, and so on, but what is love? And what is love in a Christian context?

Just google the word love and you’ll find over 13 billion references. And, when you google love in Christian context you’ll get just over 2 billion hits, so that’s somewhat less.

Strangely enough, even when there’s such a lot written about love, no one has to learn it. Love is a language everybody understands and speaks. 

So when Paul repeats the words of Jesus how loving your neighbour is the fulfillment of God’s commands, it should not be an impossible thing to understand or to exercise. It is something we should not have to learn, because it comes naturally.

And then at the end of this chapter about love, Paul merges his words love in the one sentence; ‘But, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul asks this because Jesus Christ is the Embodiment of God’s love. Paul wrote that only a few chapters before in chapter 5: 8 ‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ 

This simply means that God’s love cannot be disconnected from Jesus Christ. So, when Paul asks us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, it means accepting and receiving God’s love. 

The question remaining however is; how are we going to live by and demonstrate in our own lives this love of God. 

The complication is that we are limited by our humanity to understand the depths of God and of His love. In the end, we are only human beings and fall short in our understanding of metaphysics and the transcendence of God.

On the other hand, it is not too complicated either, because the word for love in the Bible is not simply a word, but even more so a concept which we can all understand and simply do.

When we hear or read in the Old Testament the word love it is translated from a few Hebrew words. When it relates to God and His love it is often from the Hebrew word ghesed like for example in Jeremiah 32 where it says that God will show His steadfast love to many. The same is said in Psalm 98 and 117 about God’s enduring kindness, or Psalm 35 which mentions how the earth is full of God’s unfailing love.

It is this concept of ghesed, the word for enduring kindness, steadfast and unfailing love which has found its way into the NT as the word for love.

So, when Paul repeats the words of Jesus about loving your neighbour as yourself and putting on Jesus Christ as the embodiment of God’s love he is referring to this concept of hesed.

And this concept is not difficult to understand or to live by. It simply means returning good for good. When you do something good for somebody else and you’re repaid in evil, that hurts. It is something you should not expect and when it happens it causes animosity and anger. 

In one of the 16 volumes of Botterweck’s famous Dictionary of the Old Testament it is described in summary like this: The concept of ghesed constitutes of 3 elements: it is active, social and enduring. Hesed not only designates a human attitude, but also an act emerging from this attitude. 

It is an act that preserves and promotes life. 

It is intervention on behalf of someone suffering misfortune or distress. 

It is a demonstration of friendship or piety and it pursuits of what is good not of what is evil. Together it means that the most appropriate translation of hesed is goodness, grace and kindness. 

When you help someone, or someone helps you, it creates a kind of bond and reciprocal duty, an unwritten agreement. 

Ans this is exactly what God has given to us in Jesus Christ and in His ministry. God has done something for us through Jesus Christ. As in the Old Testament did good for the Jewish nation by supprting and helping them, so now God did a similar good to us all. No longer is God’s care offered to one nation only, but instead to the whole world. God was often disappointed in the nation He saved and cared for, because it was a kind of active ghesed shown to them. But, instead of returning God’s loyalty with their own loyalty, they offered to other gods and disobeyed his commandments. 

Living according to God’s commands in this day and age, is simply returning God’s love given to us in and through the ministry of Jesus Christ, His ghesed, by staying loyal to Him. 

As to live like how the word ghesed is used in Micah 6:6-8: ‘With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself for God on high?... He has shown you what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’  

Hans

Sermon 'Out of your boat' 9/8'20

The theme for this morning from the gospel of Matthew is having the faith to walk over water. Walking over water is not possible, although there appear to be some exceptions.

Two monks, having a day off, go fishing. Being at the side of the pond, having made their fishing-tackle ready, they lower their line and float in the water. They put their fishing-rods in a holder, and begin to watch their float. When one of the monks sees his float going under, he doesn’t take his rod out of the holder, but walks over the water and pulls the fishing-line out of the water. 

Another fisher-man opposite the two monks, can’t believe his eyes. He looks with amazement on how the monk walks over the water to lift up the float and fishing hook. 

Then the other monk has a bite, and even so he walks over the water and takes up his fishing line. The man opposite them doesn’t know what to believe anymore, but when he sees his own float go under, he says to himself; If they can walk over the water, why can’t I? So, he raises up from his seat and boldly puts his first step on the water.  As you can imagine, with a big splash he immediately goes down under. 

Then the one monk says to the other; You see, my dear brother, he’s got the faith, unfortunately he doesn’t know where the stepping stones are.

Having the faith, but not knowing where the stepping stones are, is certainly not unfamiliar for the churches today in the midst of a pandemic with many churches under lock down. Even before the lock-down officially begun, the Church closed all its buildings and forbade anyone to enter the church for the fear of the Covid-19 virus. 

And here we are today, puzzling about how and where to organise our services. And in order to continue with services, churches embraced the internet to video or live-stream services as we do. And for a venue any place will do, like we saw with our own archbishop holding the Easter service from behind his kitchen sink. 

We don’t know what the future holds for our services and we don’t know when we can come back to normal. We don’t know what the new normal will  and we don’t know how many will have turned their back to the church. After all a church controlled by fear will not be able to guide others who are fearful or have lost the plot somewhere along the line, like the church has. 

Is there a better example of not knowing where the stepping stones are? The stepping stones of how to walk on the rough waters of society in the grip of a minuscule virus they can’t control.  

In the middle of a world looking for answers, with strong winds blowing against any form of Christian doctrinal teaching, what should be the voice of the Church? Instead, the world now listens to the scientists and it has turned itself into a chaos of enormous economic proportions and uncertainly about jobs and futures.

The church unfortunately has already lost its power to work miracles a long time ago. It was Augustine it the 5th century who told the anecdote about one of the early Church-fathers. He was shown all the riches of the Vatican and the pope said to him: We don’t have to say anymore; silver and gold we don’t have as Peter said to the lame man in the porch. On which the reply followed: True, but neither can you say any longer; take up your mattress and walk.

Having lost the possibility to work miracles a long time ago, it seems it now also has lost the ability to find the stepping stones. It has lost its way of walking on the waters of turmoil and tribulation and how to guide others through problems and difficulties. It has neglected to stand on Jesus Christ the Rock and to witness to the world of the risen Christ. 

When the Church doesn’t stand firm on this fundament of the risen Christ, it has lost the way and has no understanding of what to do next or knowing where to go to. Already Confucius (600 years BC) said that if you don’t know what road to take you will end nowhere.

The 2 monks in our anecdote at least knew where the stepping stones were and when Peter got out of his boat he had Jesus as his stepping stone on His side. 

Everything which now happens with the church is like being in a storm, with the winds against. The same type of weather the disciples were facing while being in their fishing boat. And we are now in the same boat, threatened by the storm and winds against us, bereaved by the loss of the many church communities. 

In circumstances like these we could also easily loose sight on the real Jesus Christ. We then ask ourselves whether we have the real Christ on our side, or just an image of Him.  In such times, we should remember the promises of God we have received through Him that God will never leave or forsake us. It, it are in these moments we hear Christ speaking to us: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

Jesus doesn’t ask from us a great faith in difficult circumstances, but to take heart and stop doubting or fearing. In all such circumstances Jesus says; take heart here am I, to take away your doubts and fears.

When we look to our churches we can’t oversee all the questions and difficult circumstances it is facing. But it are in these moment of uncertainty that Jesus also speaks to us to keep our faith in Him: Take heart it is I, have no fear!

When Peter get out of his boat, it was not because he was a hero of faith, but perhaps only because he wanted to test whether he saw a ghost or the real Christ. Peter resembles us all with his fear and his doubts, but do we dare to test our faith as Peter did by trusting in the Lordship of Jesus Christ? 

If we only focus on the circumstances we will all go under like Peter did, but the voice of Christ then also speaks to us:  Take heart it is I, have no fear! 

Having faith is not a remarkable achievement of a remarkable person in difficult circumstances. Real faith is relying on the God Who stretches His saving hands out to you and me through Christ.

With Christ we can walk over the raging waters and against the storm, if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Hans

Lammastide - the beginning of harvest

Last week, at the very end of July, Anna and I walked up to Foscote and across the fields, when we saw a combine harvester at work, starting to bring in the first of the wheat harvest. Talking with parishioners at the St Edmund’s coffee morning, held outside the church yesterday, I was asked “What was that, a red Massey Ferguson?”

I answered that I supposed that it was – and then was told just which farmer it was who would have been at work. It was a reminder to me of just how close we are, living here, to the farming life – a reminder made sharper by the conversation that followed, about the width of cut that different machines offer (from 18 feet to 40 feet) and their comparative advantages and drawbacks!  

My mother was a farmer’s daughter from Norfolk; and as research for a book that I am writing, I have been reading about how the harvest was brought in during the first half of the 19th century. An 1843 description of harvest in Norfolk describes the activities and methods: “Thirty-four men mow the wheat and in order to lay it evenly, their scythes are fitted with cradles made of iron rods. These men are each followed by two women and a boy or girl to gather up the corn into small sheaves. Eight teamsmen ..... follow to shock up the sheaves, of which they place ten in a shock, or stook ... 300 acres of wheat is cut in six days. Carting takes a further eight. Eighteen to 20 days are needed to complete the harvest.

How times have changed!

But what has not changed is the importance of the harvest, however close or remote we are to it. Bread is for most of us still a daily essential; and the importance of the flour from which it is made was reinforced at the start of the recent pandemic, when the shelves were cleared of it.

As such, it is an opportune time to remember the ancient English Christian custom of baking a first loaf of bread from the flour of the first harvest and then bringing it to church to have it blessed. In early Christian times this custom came to be fixed for celebration on August 1st – last weekend – a day that was called “Lammas”, formed from the phrase “loaf mass”, when prayers were offered for a successful harvest. I remember some years ago attending a Lammas service in another rural church, where an elaborate loaf baked in the form of a sheaf was placed upon the altar – and how strangely moving that service was: connecting us with the faith of all who had worshipped in that place over so many centuries.

So early August is Lammas-tide, a time to focus on bread and our dependence on the fruits of the harvest. Blessing a loaf of bread in church may sound a bit odd to some. But it’s interesting to note that in some Christian traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox church, prayer books also include prayers to bless not just bread but for digging wells, for salt, for sowing seed, for barns, for herds and enclosures for cattle, bees, beehives, honey, planting vineyards, stocking fishponds – and much more.

What’s interesting to note about all these blessings is not so much their specialness, but rather their very ordinariness. Many of them have to do with a farm life that most of us never touch directly, but the produce of that farm life is relevant to us all, in the foodstuffs upon which we all depend. Even the most meagre of diets—bread and water—includes bread. Bread goes to the very heart of human life.

It is therefore no coincidence that when Christ broke bread at the first  Eucharist, and instructed us to “do this in memory of me” he chose to do it through something so universal, made with the hands and the knowledge of a baker, and at the same time, the fruit of God’s creation.

We recall Jesus’ teaching after the feeding of the five thousand, where he describes himself as the Bread of Life – the one who provides everything we need in life: the answer to our prayer “Give us this day our daily bread”. Just as the bread distributed to the five thousand was sufficient for all bodily needs, so the life of Jesus in us has the potential – if we seek it – to fulfil our inner needs, our thirst for love and grace, for belonging and significance.

At Lammastide, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God as a response to his provision. 'All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.' So may we reflect, even at this difficult time, on how by God's grace the seed will continue to grow, the dough will rise, and that the fields around us will yield a rich harvest. And may we remember also to be thankful in everything we do: recognising that the first claim on all that we have is God's, because He is the provider of all things.

Sermon Romans 8

Reading from Romans 8 is a well known part of the Bible. Nothing can separate us from the love of God made known to us through Jesus Christ. 

It's rather easy to make a sermon on the subject of God’s love of from our reading, because there are numerous sermons on this subject floating on the internet. Tweak it a little here and a little there and no one will ever notice.

But I was taken by what it says in our reading in : 33; Christ Jesus, Who died, yes Who was raised from the dead. 

When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was writing primarily to non-Jewish people. The church in Rome was not founded by Paul, but he was eager to write them a letter of support. Paul also wanted to visit them, but because he didn’t established the church in Rome we was careful not to trespass on someone else’s missionary work. For this reason Paul says in his letter to visit them in passing. 

In this letter to the Romans Paul explains the fundamentals of the Christian faith. In the first sentence of his letter, he is calling himself an apostle and servant of Christ. Already in the next sentence he describes the gospel as concerning about Jesus Christ, which he said is ‘designated the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead’. 

So, from the very beginning, even before explaining any of the fundamental principles of the Gospel, Paul emphasises the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without His resurrection, Jesus Christ would never have been the designated Son of God. 

It’s not the first time we see Paul explicitly taking the resurrection of Christ as the driving force for the proclamation of the gospel. 

When Paul was in Athens he walked through the city and as it says in chapter 17, he was provoked by the many idols placed in the city. And when he was Athens he preached in the synagogues and evangelised on the market places. Paul used one of the idols he saw named ‘to an unknown god’ as a starting point for his mission. When more people became aware of his mission they said to each other; where is he talking about. And the answer they came up with was; he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities, because he preaches Jesus and the resurrection.

So, whenever he was in Rome, the capital and symbol of the Roman Empire, or in Athens, the symbol of the Greek Empire, Paul had one message; Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that’s the gospel.

In this day and age however, the emphasis seems to have changed from the resurrection to the love of God. The love of God has become the main theme and we can find it as the basis for much of the church’s new mission. With the love of God comes the church’s call to spread this love of God to the world and to the society in which it stands. God is love and so now is the church. 

But, the famous words of Richard Niebuhr from his book Christ and Culture published in 1955 are still very true today: ‘A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross’. When the love of God is not firmly rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to reconcile us again with God, it becomes a human phrase. The church has then become like one of the many social institutions fighting for social justice and equality. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not the calling of the church.

The church is called to preach and established on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the proof, the evidence, the vindication of the ministry of Jesus Christ.  Trusting in the love of God begins with believing in the resurrection of Jesus Chrtist. 

Hans

Rector's Magazine letter Summer 2020

It could very well become a hot summer; perhaps not only literally speaking, but figuratively as well. Whereas in the past people use the summer to go on holiday, it now seems to have become a time to go out demonstrating ending in rioting.

A quick look into rioting shows a mass of articles in newspapers about the correlation between rioting and frustrations.

As its seems the words of Martin Luther King are becoming true again: If it’s true that ’a riot is the language of the unheard’, then a lot of people around the world are becoming fluent in that particular dialect.

It is undeniable that a lot of frustration, annoyance and agitation stands at the basis for the mass outbreak of riots worldwide.

But, in all these rioting and expressions of frustrations to try to create a different world, the words of the prophet Isaiah spring to mind.

 

In Isiah 42:1-3 it reads: Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;I have put my spirit upon him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.

What is prophesied by Isaiah stands in contrast to the outcry of many on the streets, often turning into violence at the end. Those on the street uttering their frustration hope to make an everlasting change by going demonstrate and make their voices heard.

Unfortunately, even if changes occur because of such actions, they do not last forever. History teaches us that before we know it, we’re back into a situation of what is felt to be wrong, leading again into frustrations and feelings of hurt. History simply repeats itself and it appears impossible to escape from this merry go round. 

On the other hand, what Jesus begun has captured the world and more than anything else it has been everlasting as it has become the basis of our society in which care and support for each other are so important. Jesus never started a riot or asked those believe in Him to go onto the streets and to fight for their voices to be heard.

 

Jesus asks us to break any oppression or what is wrong not by violence, but by walking the other mile, or turning the other cheek, as the Gospel tells us in Matthew 5.

This doesn’t mean to become a ‘walkover’ or ‘pushover softy’, but to understand that there are other means to let peaceful voices be heard. In walking the other mile and turning the other cheek, Jesus refers to the first mile and the first slap as the symbols of oppression, but how that can be broken.

The first slap on the face forces the authority of the oppressor over the oppressed, but that authority is broken by turning the other cheek. Even so, when Jesus spoke these words, any Roman citizen could force a non-Roman to carry a load for a mile. With going the second mile, the rights of the oppressor are broken, because the second mile is the mile walked in freedom.

What will be done in Christ’s name will have an everlasting effect on our friends, neighbours and society as a whole. Much more that trying to overturn the world around us by demonstrating or even rioting. Jesus has not fulfilled His ministry by using force, but as it is proven the forces of God are stronger than any force of the world. Jesus Christ’s ministry is an everlasting ministry, because it based on God’s call to be reconciled to Him and to one another. 

 

In knowing that God has reconciled Himself first to us through Christ, may we take our part in proclaiming and living a message of hope, peace and reconciliation even in disturbing times.

 

 

Hans

Matthew 10: 26-32

I read this passage in Matthew whilst thinking about Father's Day, and the love of our Heavenly Father:

At this point in Matthews Gospel Jesus send his disciples out to heal and proclaim that "the kingdom of heaven has come near", God Himself had come to earth and was living among us.

Jesus tells his disciples that proclaiming the good news may not be easy; people may not understand and some will reject them. So, Jesus gives his disciples words of encouragement and reminds them to see God's bigger picture.

3 times Jesus tells them not to be afraid. In vs 26 he says that nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed - God's truth will triumph. Even though not everyone knows Gods message of love now and many reject it, there will be a time when everyone knows it. God is ultimately in control and his love will triumph.

In vs 27 Jesus says "what I tell you in the dark, speak in the light" - as Christians we are in relationship with God and we pray to him. Prayer involves both speaking and listening. Here Jesus is saying that what we learn in the quiet of our own hearts we should share with others - Gods love is not a secret and we should share it. Sometimes this can take courage and Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, reminding them of Gods big picture of eternal love and glory.

Then Jesus gives 2 wonderful illustrations of Gods care and love for us:

Firstly, though 2 sparrows are sold for a penny, God knows when any sparrow falls to the ground. The greek for 'falls' here doesnt mean 'dies' but when a  bird flies down to hop on the ground. This is a lovely illustration of God's knowledge and involvement in his creation; think how much then God cares for us.

Secondly, Jesus says that God has counted the hairs on our head - God knows us in that detail! And how does that make us feel? precious, valued, cared for, he loves us with the unconditional love of a parent.

Finally, Jesus says that whoever acknowledges him, He will acknowledge before God. This is a promise that Jesus is our loyal and true friend, which gives us courage to proclaim his gospel message that the kingdom of heaven is near: for if we accept Jesus' gift to us of his death and resurrection, and follow him we enter the Kingdom of God NOW. I live in the world and I also live in the Kingdom of God which lasts into heaven and eternity - a kingdom of love.  Cathy 

Reflection on Jesus call to ministry - Mathew 9 vs 35 to 10 vs 8

 

 

Our Gospel this morning is from Matthew,  Chapter 9 verse 35 to Chapter 10 verse 8

 

The Workers Are Few

 

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 

 

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

 

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 

 

38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

 

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

 

10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

 

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 

 

Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 

 

Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

 

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 

 

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel! 

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 

 

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

This is the Gospel of the Lord

 

Good morning. The intention was to record in Akeley Churchyard, but the wind was such we have had to move back to Maids Moreton

 

Let us first pray

 

Lord we thank you for bringing us together to worship you this morning.

 

Help us to listen and to learn from your word and to be encouraged by it to face with confidence the challenges that still lie before us.

 

Although physically apart, bring us ever closer into your family

 

In Jesus name we pray.

 

Amen 

 

As I was assembling my ideas for today I naturally thought about Covid 19. We have given a fancy name to it — a pandemic — but in earlier times we would have called it a plague. 

 

A plague can be defined as an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : 

 

They can affect humans, animals or plant life.

 

Plagues are nothing new, but one difference is that now the we have it placed before us by the media all the time. Mostly from a negative point of view. 

 

How are you coping with Covid 19? It is hard isn’t it?

Separated from family and friends.

Young people not knowing how their educational opportunities will pan out or if they will find employment.

Vast numbers of people potentially out of work.

Parents anxious about there prospects, and how they will support their families 

Will things like sport, entertainment, restaurants, pubs, cafes, ever be the same. Can we go on holiday again?  When can we meet collectively in our churches again?

 

The list of negatives is endless.

 

But so are the positives but we only tend to find those in the bottom corner of an inside page in the newspaper.

 

Traffic and thus pollution greatly reduced

Time to stop and enjoy nature

Parents able to spend time with their kids!

Being able to step out of the rat race

The quiet

Time to reflect on what is really important in our lives.

 

One of the best things that has happened is that so many more people are helping others.Some doing big things but most showing little acts of human kindness to someone else. Do you notice how many more people acknowledge you as you pass. Showing the need for human contact!

 

Even as christians many of us have got out of the habit of such acts, being too self centred, too concerned about our own lives, and rather less about the charge that Jesus Christ has given us.

 

And so todays readings are a timely reminder 

 

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 

 

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

We may not have the medical skills to heal the medical condition, Covid 19, but I foresee the greater medium to long term need being for the mental health of those around us. There we can help by our contact, by giving our time to listening to and reassuring people.

 

37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

 

This Gospel  passage describes a pivotal moment in Jesus ministry. Up until now,Mathew’s Gospel has all been about Jesus’ personal ministry. Jesus had been traveling all throughout Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Not only that, he’d been healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and raising the dead back to life.

 

Can you imagine what it would have been like to see this? It would have been extraordinary. 

 

But as we move into In Matthew chapter 10:1 we read, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” 

 

We are right at the moment when Jesus makes the switch from preaching and teaching and healing himself, to commissioning his disciples to go out to preach and teach and heal. 

This is the moment when Jesus commissions his followers to do what he’s doing. So what does this tell us? It tells us that whatever happens, if we claim to be a follower of Jesus then we are charged with exercising the same type of ministry that Jesus had. 

 

We read in verse 36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.” 

 

The compassion of Jesus is a theme that keeps coming up in the book of Matthew.

because Compassion is at the heart of Jesus.

 

You could think that the reason for that compassion would be because of the sicknesses that he’s encountered everywhere he goes.That is certainly worth his compassion. 

 

But what moves Jesus here isn’t the physical illnesses that he’s encountered. Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” 

 

What moved Jesus was the great spiritual need of the people. Their lives had no centre, their existence seemed aimless, and their whole experience was one of futility. How many of us, if we are honest have experienced such moments in our Covid lockdown?

 

If we are to serve like Jesus served, we must have a heart that is like the heart of Jesus. This means that we must have compassion for those we encounter who have not yet found the great Shepherd Jesus Christ. It means that we look around us and see people the way Jesus does, and feel compassion for them the way that he does.

 

As we read this passage today, we, like the disciples,  are given something to believe and then something to do.

 

First, we’re given something to believe. Jesus says in verse 37, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” 

 

He tells us is that the harvest is ready. People are ready to receive the good news of the kingdom. The problem isn’t that people are unready to receive the good news; the problem is that we aren’t ready to tell them. 

 

One of our greatest challenges as Christians is that we can believe  that people aren’t interested, that it’s a waste of time to tell them. Jesus tells us that is not right.They are ready to hear. This is what he tells us to believe. Do you believe it?

 

Then he gives us something to do about it. 

 

You would expect Jesus to say, “ Get out there and tell them!” But that’s not what he says. Surprisingly, he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus tells us to pray first instead of doing something? 

 

In the very next chapter, remember, he’s going to instruct his twelve disciples, and then send them out to preach and teach and do the things that he’s done. 

 

But he knows that before any can have the ministry that he has, they must have the same prayerful reliance on the Father that he does. Before we can have the compassion of Jesus, we must have the connection with the Father that Jesus has.

 

It’s one thing for us to go and do. It’s another thing altogether to plead with God that he would raise up people — either through conversion or growth — who are ready to go; to pray that God would give them a spirit for the work, call them to it, and give them wisdom and success.

 

When I think of the cross and I see the Shepherd willingly lay down his life for me so that I could become one of his sheep I know the least I can do is pray for others.

 

And when we start to believe that the harvest is plentiful and pray that he would send out workers, you never know if we may become the answer to our own prayers — that we could be the workers commissioned by the Lord of the harvest himself. 

 

What an inspiring thought!

 

Let us pray!

 

Lord, your harvest is your love;

A love sown in the hearts of all people;

Love that spreads out like the branches of a great tree covering all who seek its shelter;

Love that inspires and that recreates;

Love that is planted in the weak and the weary, the sick and the dying and those who spend their life in fear.

 

The harvest of your love is the life that reaches  to the sunlight of resurrection through the weeds of sin and death.

 

Lord, nurture our days with your love, water our souls with the dew of forgiveness, that the harvest of our lives may be your joy.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

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