Sermons

Here you will find some of our recent sermons. Some of these are full scripts while others are in note form only, hopefully there’s enough for you to get the key points. If you have questions, feel free to ask the relevant minister.

Trust God; He trusts us!

Acts 1:15 -17; 21 – end

Have you ever felt that you have been thrown in the deep end, having to do something that you feel that you are completely unequipped to deal with? Guess what, I have. I might even be feeling it right now!

In our reading at the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus had promised his disciples that they would be well-equipped to continue his work of healing the sick, taking care of the poor, and telling everyone about the love of God; with the gift of the Holy Spirit. I wonder how much they believed that this would be the case. Jesus was back now, and had been for forty days, they didn’t need to do anything because their Teacher, the most qualified person for this work, would be around to do it. I wonder how complacent they felt now that he was there. But then suddenly, he wasn’t. He was completely and abruptly taken from them again. How would they cope without him?

We must remember that the twelve disciples were ordinary men: some were fishermen, Matthew was a tax collector. John and James were brothers, as were Andrew and Peter. Ordinary men with ordinary families, ordinary jobs. They were all different people. They were flawed. But Jesus deliberately chose real people to be his disciples because he wanted to show that his love was for everyone. He could have chosen the wealthy, the respected, the educated. But he chose these twelve ordinary men who opened their hearts to him, who made themselves vulnerable to him.

When Jesus left for the second time and ascended into Heaven, the disciples were at a crossroads in their lives. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” How much did they believe that would happen? There are plenty of instances in the Gospels where the Twelve disbelieve what Jesus tells them. I know that when someone shows that they trust in my abilities, my self-esteem doesn’t always let me believe them.

It is so easy to recognise the talents and skills in other people, but we often value our own so lowly that we don’t always grab opportunities when they arise. I’m no good for that. I’ll just make a fool of myself. I’ll be a hindrance, not a help. That person is much more qualified than I am. I’m scared. How much of life do we miss out on because we do not trust ourselves? How much more could we be serving and loving each other if we saw what others saw in us? What opportunities pass us by?

The people that we surround ourselves with and are vulnerable with are integral to our spiritual, emotional and physical growth and well-being. We don’t always choose the right people to spend our time with, especially when we are younger; and this can really affect the way we view ourselves. These people can often completely drain us in every way, but we need to be with people who fill and overflow our cups with love, honesty, acceptance and strength, and we should also be consciously pouring that out for others.

Likewise, the complacency that the disciples may have felt once Jesus was resurrected is easy to understand and empathise with. If you are surrounded by talented, hardworking people it is very easy to take a backseat. We let them get on with it because they know what they’re doing and will do it very well. But what if they’re not there anymore? Then what? Who will step up? That’s a very frightening thought that I can certainly relate to now. When they move on, no one will feel the absence of my wonderful, talented colleagues and friends Drew, Billie, Katie, Ian and Carol more than I will. I am forever grateful to them for their mentorship, advice, kindness, encouragement and love. But I must remember, I can do this work; because I have been called by God to do it and my strength comes from Him; and I have been fortified with my colleagues’ mentorship, advice, kindness, encouragement, and love.

Jesus loved his friends, these ordinary men with ordinary jobs, ordinary lives and ordinary families; and he knew what they were capable of. He left them at exactly the right time. He knew that they would continue his work, and here we are, two thousand years later. Despite any doubt any of them might have had in his own worth or his ability, we are in church worshipping our God because they taught us to. Funnily enough, God also knows what we are capable of, because our power comes from our vulnerability when we let go and just let God take the wheel. He will always give us the strength to do what we need to, the courage to do what is scary and the belief in ourselves to live life in a way that glorifies Him.

Amen.

Wend Smith, Assistant Children & Families Minister

A new life. A new beginning.

Acts 10:44 -, John 15:9-17

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus has told His disciples explicitly that He loves them as much as His Father loves Him. He knows they will go through great tribulations in doing so, and he commands them to ‘Remain in my love. If you obey my commands, then you will remain in my love’. He knew they would have a certain kind of joy when sharing their faith. That it would overflow. That is what would attract people to listen to them, even when they were being persecuted. It’s a supernatural joy that comes from knowing for sure that they are loved with an everlasting love of God through Christ Jesus. It’s a love that would see them through their awful deaths, except for John who was exiled on Patmos till the end his life, but not before God gave him a Revelation of things to come; many of which have happened, are happening now and will happen before Jesus returns.

Jesus called them His friends, and he was going to lay down His life for them, but they didn’t know it at the time. It was only after His death and resurrection, that those words of Jesus had true meaning for them. And they in turn would die for speaking out the truth about Jesus and God’s love for all, believers and non believers alike. And the promise; that all who believe in Him as Saviour would have eternal life. They and we must believe and love God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our strength and with all our soul, and love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. A tall order but look at the rewards.

A new life. A new beginning. A promise that Jesus would never leave us. He is with us through the good and the hard times. He knows all about you and me. He knew about Nathaniel, that he was a faithful believer in God when he first saw him under the fig tree. Nathaniel said ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth’, but he soon realized Jesus was more than an ordinary man and continued to follow him. Jesus has insight to each one of us, you and me. He knows our every thought before we think and act on it. I bet we give him a few cringing moments as well

That was how much God loves us. Jesus, our best friend, died for each one of us. How do we know that? We know that because we have the Holy Bible. God inspired all the writers of the Holy Gospel to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Prophets foretold it in the Old Testament, and the Apostles wrote about it in the New Testament, and in Revelation, right at the end, God says, ‘And if anyone removes any of the words of this prophetic book, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and the Holy City that are described in this book’. So be warned.

All our sins are forgiven when we come before God and repent. That means turning away from wrong doings. Saying sorry and asking Jesus to show us how to stay on the straight and narrow way, to follow Him. Then we will have great joy and internal and eternal peace that passes all understanding.

We have been given the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as our Saviour. It’s a free gift. We can’t earn it by hard work. We heard in the reading from Acts how not only did the Jewish people receive the Holy Spirit, but also non-Jews too.

In verse 43, just before Acts 10 verse 44 of todays reading, Peter mentions ‘He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name’. And to all who were listening to that message, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. Not just the Jews, but the Gentiles too! I expect there were many who turned a deaf ear, couldn’t believe what they were hearing, like there are many today who refuse to listen. My own family included. (But I pray twice a day for them, and believe in my heart God will answer my prayers for them).

The Ethiopian eunuch’s need to be baptised in what could have just been a big puddle or pond was the beginning of non-Jews wanting to be baptised by water, then Cornelius and his whole household, the uncircumcised received the Holy Spirit just as the disciples had. In one mighty gust of the Spirit, God had swept away ‘we/they, us/them distinctions. All were zapped.

We are coming up to the time in the Christian calendar May 9th, when we celebrate Christ ascension into heaven and before Pentecost, which is 10 days later. The Diocese have produced a daily prayer guide and I believe Barry has planned to do a daily blog we can follow online. Wouldn’t it be great if we all followed it and prayed daily for Carterton residents to hear and receive the Good News of Jesus Christ . We may find many hear and respond to the invitation from God to believe in His Son, to repent and turn away from their selfish lives, and follow Christ. They would then be filled with the Holy Spirit like you and me. Carterton could see a revival. But it will only happen if we pray corporately and individually. Lets give it a try. We have the ‘Sing and Praise’ service on the 18th May, the day before Pentecost. What an amazing God incident that could be. Let’s make it a time of really seeking God’s will for this town and surrounding areas. Not for our sakes, but for God’s glory and the salvation of many lost, lonely, frightened, worried people. We know life is hard, Jesus didn’t say it would be easy, but with His help, God’s love in us and the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible to those who believe. In Matt 19:26, and 29 Jesus said ‘with men it is impossible; but if they forsake all things for my sake, with God whatsoever things I speak are possible’ ; ‘And everyone who has given up houses, brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life’. So, although my family believe I have walked away from them

because of my faith, I hold on to that truth and know for certain they will have the opportunity to receive Jesus as their Saviour, but it’s their choice alone. I can’t make them, only pray for them.

You can all do the same for family and friends and leave them to choose for themselves.

Let us pray,

Father, you want all peoples to turn to you for their sakes, and have a personal relationship with you through and in your Son Jesus Christ. We pray for your Holy Spirit to alight on them as it did at Pentecost, and fill them with your everlasting joy, peace and forgiving love.

In Christ Jesus name, Amen.

Carol Howard, LLM.

Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (Third Sunday of Lent)

John 2:13-22

I’d like to encourage us all to think about what it is that God might be saying to us through this scripture. That is likely to be different things for each of us.

All 4 gospel accounts tell of Jesus cleansing the temple courts. The 3 synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, place the account in the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. However, John places it at the start of Jesus’ ministry. So, it appears that there might have been two occasions in which Jesus drove out the merchants from the temple courts. We will look at all 4 of the gospel accounts for a better understanding of what is happening here as the significance and interpretation is the same.

In all the gospels the time is set during the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem. This was one of 3 major festivals during the year where Jewish men were expected to travel up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Exodus (1446BC), God’s rescue of his people from Egyptian slavery.

Many people, would also travel up with the men, women, children, house hold servants and slaves would all go up. The city would be packed.

In verse 14 we find out that there was a market set up within the temple where travellers from afar could exchange their coins and the people could purchase an animal to sacrifice. The Greek word used here for temple is hieron which refers to the area surrounding the actual temple, and included the court of the Gentiles. It was the only place where non-Jewish worshipers were allowed to be and worship God.

John’s gospel account is the only one where Jesus makes and uses a weapon, I use that word deliberately to convey the shocking nature of what is happening. I am NOT saying that Jesus went on a rampage with a cord whip beating up people. What we are told is that he drove all the animals from the temple courts, he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. Jesus then singles out those who sold doves as he turns to them and says ‘Get out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ It must have been a shocking sight!

And a great commotion at one of the busiest and holiest times.

What is going on here.

Worship –The temple in Jerusalem was a special place of worship. It was the most important place to worship and where God was said to resided in the inner holy of holies. The Passover festival was an important celebration of remembrance, thanksgiving, and praise.

In the 3 synoptic gospel Jesus says “for my house will be called a house of prayer” which he is quoting from Isaiah 56:7.

Mark adds to that “house of prayer for all nations’?

And yet a market place has been set up in the only space where non-Jewish people could go to worship. I do not know if you have ever visited a market place and tried to pray, I haven’t. But I have been in noisy places and it is almost impossible to pray or draw close to God with lots of distractions around.

The offence here is that the gentiles, were being discriminated against, and were being kept away from worshiping God at a very special time. Keeping people from God was very wrong.

Merchants – In John’s gospel account the dove sellers were being singled out with some harsh words and told to get out of the temple. Doves were the sacrificial offering of the poor. Those who could not afford to purchase a cow or lamb, would scrimp and save enough money to buy a couple of doves.

In Matthews gospel account Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 7:11 which says “has this house, which bears my name, become a den of robbers to you.”

Mark and Luke also quote Jesus as saying “you have made it into a den of robbers”.

So, it appears that the merchants have been over charging their customers. And Jesus is particularly angry with the merchants who are fleecing the pilgrims who are poor, those most vulnerable and could least afford it.

Right inside the temple walls in the outer courts, at one of the most holy and special times of worship corruption is exposed. All under the governance of the religious leaders at the time.

Here we see Jesus living out his faith in obedience to his Father. Standing up for those most vulnerable, and insisting that God’s house was for prayer and worship, even though this provokes the chief priests and Pharisees into plotting his death.

Implied Warning – In Matthews gospel account Jesus quotes from 2 OT passages, from Isaiah saying “for my house will be called a house of prayer”

And from Jeremiah 7:11. Not only does Jeremiah declare -“this house, which bears my name, become a den of robbers to you. But concludes with “But I have been watching declares the Lord”.

Jesus hasn’t just plucked these words out of thin air. Both quotes in their original context are about being faithful servants of God and the worship of God alone.

Jesus is calling out sinful behaviour, and saying as a result they are not being faithful servants – keeping others away from God, they are using God’s house for a market & taking advantage of the vulnerable and they are not putting God first – money first.

The out working of this is an implied warning because only the burnt offerings of the faithful and those who worship God alone will be acceptable to the all-seeing God.

So, on the surface they may look like good Jewish faithful servants, but God knows what they are doing and will judge their actions accordingly.

Prophecy being fulfilled –which is easily overlooked with everything else that is going on. John describes how later the disciples would remember the scripture “Zeal for your house will consume me” – Psalm 69:9. So, this cleansing of the temple, this zeal for God’s house of prayer, was being fulfilled by Jesus.

But the most important bit of this scripture comes almost at the end of John’s account and is a Foretaste for the death & resurrection of Jesus – right at the end Jesus is confronted by the Jews, most probably the Jewish leaders.

Notice that they do not acknowledge or deny the charges Jesus has levelled against them, instead they follow the distraction technique and ask by what sign or authority do you have to do this in our temple? (I’m paraphrasing here!)

We have this rather strange reply from Jesus “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three day’s”. It only makes sense to me if Jesus is answering not the question spoken out loud but the thoughts of the chief priests and Pharisees of their hatred, plotting to destroy and to kill Jesus. Let me explain my thinking, scripture tells us of other occasions when Jesus knows the thoughts of others and responds, for example when Jesus says to the paracletic

man, “Son your sins are forgiven.” he knows the teachers of the law are thinking he is blaspheming and Jesus calls them out and corrects them. Then, if we read on in Mark and Luke’s gospel accounts of the cleansing of the temple, both talk immediately after this event of the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to destroy Jesus, because they feared him, his teaching and healing that the people were flocking too.

So, in his reply, I believe that, Jesus is answering to their sinful thoughts, when he refers to his body as the temple, and their attempt to destroy him. At the same time, he is also starting to set up the new theology, new idea of Jesus being the temple of God.

But the Jewish leaders have a literal understanding of what Jesus is talking about, a human rather than a spiritual understanding, and are scoffing at an image of Jesus building their temple stone by stone. They are hearing but not understanding. Their response in scoffing publicly to humiliate Jesus continues their sinful actions.

John goes on to say, that his disciples recalled this very conversation after Jesus was raised from the dead. As they begin to piece together their experience of and the words of Jesus, they come to believe the OT Scriptures and the words that Jesus had spoken. This was all part of the evidence for who Jesus really is, God incarnate.

This strange reply is both a signpost and a hint of God’s new rescue plan, through the cross, Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three day’s”.

Summary – At this stage it’s common for me to reflect upon what we can learn from and how we apply the teaching from this passage? However, I’m not going to do that.

Lent is a time of preparation, reflection, and repentance. We also are preparing to celebrate our rescue, from the slavery of sin, as we travel through towards the cross and Easter.

In that process over the next few days-

1. I’d like to encourage us to think about what it is that God might be saying to us through this scripture. Something might have resonated with you. How might this affect the way we live out our faith in the future?

2. reflect upon one or two of the following questions and I’ve got copies of them that you can take home to reflect upon and pray into, if you would like to.

Really keen you could do both – or you may decide to do something else entirely. Take what is useful and lay down the rest.

· Who are the people that we might discriminate against?

· How might our actions draw us and others closer to God.

· What are the things we do that keep ourselves and others away from God? Prioritising my time with God – busy

· How do our thoughts, words, and actions reflect our faith? Knowledge & application – living out our faith.

· How might we take advantage of those who are vulnerable?

· When have we stood up for justice?

· Do we take seriously that God sees everything we do?

· What are the things we need to repent?

· Can we see the evidence of who Jesus is and what he has done for us?

· How are we preparing for Easter? Focus – do we give more time and energy in tracking down chocolate eggs or worship, delight, and joy of God

My prayer is we would all continue to engage with scripture over the coming days. To work out what this means for us.

Reminder that if you would like to talk to any of the ministers, we are available and happy to support. Amen.

Lyndsay Baker, LLM

Following Jesus (Second Sunday in Lent)

Mark 8: 31 – end

A young woman wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application form that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this reply from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

Jesus wants us to follow him.

Just over 10 years ago Richard Dawkins, the well-known atheist, famously announced  “When it comes to belief, practice or even the most elementary knowledge of the Bible, it is clear that faith is a spent force in the UK”. 

But not everyone agrees: A 2022 survey found that 49% of people believe in God. I wonder what kind of answers I would get if I went round Carterton/Black Bourton  today and asked people who they think Jesus is. What does it mean for Jesus to be the Son of God? To follow him? That’s what we’re looking at today in our gospel reading.

Just before our section, in verse 30, Peter has recognised Jesus as the Christ, the King the Israelites had been expecting, whose coming had been prophesied in the Old Testament. But, the very first thing Jesus says, in verse 31, is that the Son of Man must suffer, and that he must be killed. This is Jesus teaching them about what it means for him to be King: Not just that he will suffer, but that he must. It’s not a question of him upsetting the wrong people, it’s part of his mission.  When Peter tries to argue against that, Jesus says it’s God’s plan that Peter’s opposing.

It was prophesised in Isaiah 53:

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

1 Corinthians 5:21 reads, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Peter spent a lot of time with Jesus, he was one of the disciples; he knew Jesus personally. And yet, he still got it wrong Is it like that with us?

A lot of people today seem to think of Jesus as a great moral teacher – which he was! But if that’s where our understanding of Jesus begins and ends, following him will basically mean trying to be a good person and do good things. But that’s not what Jesus says it means to be his follower.

He says, v34, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

But what does that mean? The apostle Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” It’s a complete change of direction: we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and by faith we live a new life to please Him, in the knowledge that we have been forgiven.

Some of you here will remember when Wend and Emily renewed their baptism vows? They had a full immersion baptism in a pool in the rectory garden. Going under, symbolically, any sin is washed away, it’s death to the old way of life.  As they come up, they’re reborn, ready to live a new life following JC.

Let’s look at what that means in reality, I want to illustrate it with a story:

Pooh Goes Visiting

Well, [Pooh] was humming this hum to himself, and walking gaily along, wondering what everybody else was doing, and what it felt like, being somebody else, when suddenly he came to a sandy bank, and in the bank was a large hole.

“Aha!” said Pooh. (Rum-tum-tiddle-um-tum.)

“If I know anything about anything, that hole means Rabbit,” he said, “and Rabbit means Company,” he said, “and Company means Food and Listening-to-Me-Humming and such like.  Rum-tum-tum-tiddle-um.”

So he bent down, put his head into the hole, and called out:

“Is anybody at home?”

There was a sudden scuffling noise from inside the hole, and then silence.

“What I said was, ‘Is anybody at home?’”  Called out Pooh very loudly.

“No!” said a voice; and then added, “You needn’t shout so loud. I heard you quite well the first time.”

“Bother!” said Pooh. “Isn’t there anybody here at all?”

“Nobody.”

Winnie-the-Pooh took his head out of the hole, and thought for a little, and he thought to himself, “There must be somebody there, because somebody must have said ‘Nobody.'”  So he put his head back in the hole, and said:

“Hallo, Rabbit, isn’t that you?”

“No,” said Rabbit, in a different sort of voice this time.

“But isn’t that Rabbit’s voice?”

“I don’t think so,” said Rabbit.  “it isn’t meant to be.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.

He took his head out of the hole, and had another think, and then he put it back, and said:

“Well, could you very kindly tell me where Rabbit is?”

“He’s gone to see his friend Pooh Bear, who is a great friend of his.”

“But this is Me!”  said Bear, very much surprised.

“What sort of Me?”

“Pooh Bear.”

“Are you sure?” said Rabbit, still more surprised.

“Quite, quite sure,” said Pooh.

“Oh, well, then, come in.”

(Winnie the Pooh – Chapter Two – Pooh Goes Visiting)

Well, initially, it doesn’t seem like Rabbit really does see Pooh as “a great friend of his.”  But then, look at why Pooh wants to visit! Perhaps we shouldn’t judge Rabbit too harshly as Pooh ends up eating all the food in Rabbit’s house so that he’s so big he gets stuck half way out of the rabbit hole! You’d have to read on for that.

But What Would Jesus do? He’d welcome Pooh, even knowing that he had an appetite for honey and condensed milk.  His attitude was to always welcome everyone.  Not just the little child or power-hungry disciples, but the physically hungry and the diseased as well, the Rich Young Ruler and the Pharisee who would only come at night in case he was seen.  To be followers of Jesus, is to open all the food cupboards in the rabbit warrens of our lives and allow them to be emptied, whatever that means to you. Take a moment to think about that, what doors, barriers are you keeping tight shut? PAUSE  It’s the ‘going the extra mile’, ‘turning the other cheek’, forgiving again and again. It’s hard, people might think we’re mad, a ‘soft touch’, but it’s only by welcoming everyone, loving everyone, forgiving past wrongs and not judging, putting Jesus first, denying ourselves, that we’ll be following JC.

JC says If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” I don’t think he means shuffling your feet and pretending you’re not a Christian, sneaking into church hoping no-one’s seen you.  I think it means being ashamed or afraid to stand up for what’s right, to behave the way you know JC would want you to behave.

So, we’re sorted!  We know what to do, so let’s do it!

But, of course, no-one can be totally transformed like that.  I’m sure even Wend and Emily still get it wrong sometimes!  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Just because we aren’t yet totally transformed, just because we don’t always 100% love God and love our neighbour as ourselves, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do those thingswith God’s help.

And Jesus acknowledges this! If you look at the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel, Luke 9:23, Jesus actually says that taking up our cross is something that his followers need to do daily. It’s not something which we do once and then never have to do again. He’ s saying, if you’re his follower you will make mistakes, you will fall down. But keep on trying, and He will help you. Thank goodness for that!

This is why we worship together regularly: to remind each other that we need to keep coming back to the cross, it’s to hear the story of the love and forgiveness that we find in Jesus, that everlasting covenant, and to keep promising to take up our cross.

Amen

Billie Tweedy, LLM

In the Wilderness (First Sunday in Lent)

Mark 1.9-15 (Gen 9.8-17)

· Mark covers similar ground to Mat and Lk but different in style.

· Presents J as constantly on the move, purposefully challenging the world with Kingdom values on his way to the cross.

· Sharply contrasting episodes; everything happens ‘suddenly’, ‘immediately’, ‘at once’.

· e.g. today’s passage – Less than 100 words; dramatic baptism of J / temptation in wilderness / back to Galilee, preaching good news.

· Today focus on middle section, appropriate for first Sunday in LENT.

· BIG QUESTION – What is the purpose of spending time in the wilderness (for Jesus, and for us)?

An Interruption?

· At first glance an unnecessary interruption – a 40 day intermission at height of the drama!

· Bap of J = also his confirmation/ordination – naturally leads into his public ministry of proclamation, healing, deliverance.

· Everything ready! Jesus, the penitent crowds attracted by John…

· So why doesn’t Jesus start right away? Why delay 40 days in wilderness?

· PERHAPS a last ditch effort by Satan, realizing who Jesus is, to prevent his mission getting off the ground? EXCEPT it is not Satan but the Holy Spirit who drives Jesus into wilderness.

But WHY?

A Historical Parallel (obvious to first readers of Mk)

· Jesus V Israel

· Jesus went through waters of baptism; Israel went through Red Sea

· Israel was then tested in wilderness to see if they’d become the Holy & Separate people God longed for, a chosen people who’d bring salvation to all people. They failed – disobedience & fear leading to 40 YEARS wandering (until whole disobedient generation had died.)

· Like Israel, Jesus must take the wilderness examination – but he passes!

· Jesus is unique but we need to learn 3 things about the wilderness & incorporate into our own discipleship.

· A place of TESTING

· A place where we learn HOLINESS

· A place of BLESSING

TESTING

· Examples of armies/aircraft crew testing equipment… motor racing teams… marathon runners…

· We all need testing to find out how we’ll react when the pressure is on.

· No substitute for testing. Baptism, confirmation, ordination, communion are NOT substitutes for testing.

· Mark gives no details of HOW Jesus was tested. Mat & Lk record 3 specific temptations concerning how Jesus would use his Messiahship. In each case, close to starvation, Jesus relies on food of God’s word & sends Satan packing!

· For each of us the details will be different – e.g. physical or mental illness, bereavement, redundancy, relationship breakdown, imprisonment…the list could go on!

· God does not send these BUT he will certainly USE them to test & train us, make us stronger & more whole… IF we let him.

· So many people are going through incredibly tough challenges. Question – Is this a time of testing and preparation or is it the time we’ve been being prepared for? Is it a training run or the actual race? The answer is “Yes and yes”. Because of past testing and training we can be confident that God will sustain us through this trial. Life is not a rehearsal, it is the real thing, but we are still being prepared for something even better, and currently beyond our experience and understanding.

HOLINESS

· Means separation FROM the world and separation TO God.

· Needed more than ever in this day and age – constant bombardment of our senses – hard for God to get a word in.

· Praying in the car? What proportion of our attention does God get? What proportion does he deserve?

· Benefit of separating FROM our toys, comforts, so that we can listen to God without distraction.

· How hard it is for a rich/comfortable person to enter God’s kingdom.

· The flip side is separating TO God. How? By learning the skill, the art of finding his presence, listening to his still small voice = committing quality time to our relationship with God so that relationship can grow and we can become more like our Father.

BLESSING

· Wilderness a place to be feared – danger, wild animals, evil spirits?

· Jesus faced all these but found that the ANGELS (God’s secret messengers and helpers) were also with him.

· He also found that the Holy Spirit within him was more powerful than any evil spirits.

· He found that the mouths of wild beasts were closed (like Daniel in lions’ den).

· He found nourishment, understanding, wisdom, clarity of purpose in the wilderness.

· He was blessed there and came back powerfully proclaiming good news.

· Wilderness had also been a place of blessing for Israel – provision of God – manna – clothes & shoes not wearing out. See also Jeremiah 31.1-4 – God calling Israel BACK to wilderness to experience his love & blessing.

· In our material world, encouraged to compare ourselves with the rich = hard to see wilderness as a blessing, but it is! Look for rainbows where the clouds are darkest and most threatening. Look for God and you’ll find him and be strengthened and encouraged.

· Nothing compares with intimate time with our Father and to experience that fully, we need to spend time in the wilderness, the place of blessing.

CONCLUSION

· Jesus learned lessons of wilderness well. In fact he learned value of returning there regularly for solitary prayer, listening to his Father. Especially when big decisions or challenges looming.

· Same applies to us, but where can we find wilderness?

· Final advice – if you are currently in the wilderness – don’t waste the opportunity. Decide to be a disciple, not a tourist. Love, lean on and learn from your companions in the wilderness, remembering that God is love.

· If you have never been in the wilderness before, welcome it, embrace it and be transformed by God through it and beyond it.

Rev Drew Tweedy

Luke 19:1-10 Jesus and Zacchaeus (NRSV)

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

* * * * * * *

So you wanna cut through Jericho and trade your stuff do you? On behalf of the Roman Empire, you are obliged to pay Caeser a portion of your earnings and future earnings. That’s 20% thanks. Don’t anger me or the Roman guards over there…” It was the same all over all the way out to the fringes of the Roman Empire. And so it was with the daily word of a Roman Tax Man.

The name, Zacchaeus translates as “”pure, innocent”. That’s rather interesting given his profession before he met Jesus. He was a chief tax-collector at Jericho in the Bible. Because the lucrative production and export of balsam was centred in Jericho, his position would have carried both importance and wealth. Balsam is an aromatic resinous substance that flows from a plant, either spontaneously or from an incision. Balsams are soft, initially malleable, and therefore can be used an ointment in wound healing. If the resin is left to harden, it is fragrant, and can be used in perfumes, cosmetics and used as incense.

So why did Zakko, Zakki, Big Zed (I wonder what his mates called him, if he had any) have such a change of heart? I think this is a lesson in itself, that follows the old and truthful saying, money does not buy happiness.

Having more money might bring pleasure, but it does not bring intrinsic happiness that’s sticky to the soul. Personal growth, meaningful relationships, and states of our physical and mental health contribute to the intrinsic happiness that grounds us regardless of the unknowns that swirl around us. This is because once our basic needs are met, our happiness becomes less dependent on material possessions and more on social connections, purpose, and meaning in life.

Spike Milligan, an old comedian said Spike Milligan, a British comedian who died in 2002, said “Money can’t buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.” We might have heard a paraphrase of this: “Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly helps.”

Zakki’s god was money. He had no generosity towards others. Jesus was filled with loving compassion for this man because his life was so empty. He had climbed to the top of the ladder of success, only to find his ladder leaned against the wrong building. We too may think that having lots of wealth may give us everything we need in life, but then the proverb comes to haunt us “money can’t buy happiness.”

Material possessions are dangerous as they reinforce a selfish self-sufficiency and then cause us to think that we don’t need God. “I am doing just fine thanks”. We may find it unpalatable to hear that anyone who trusts in riches, becomes greedier, and is using them as an idolatrous replacement for God. When we are doing well, God is not thanked and is pushed to the background. But when times get tough, we have the nerve to call upon him for help, having previously ignored him.

We often do not consider ourselves to be rich. But we may often forget that we have so many comforts and luxuries in comparison to so many others around the world. We may not consider what it would be like if we were born in a different country. When on holiday, perhaps in a developing country, have you ever considered what kind of life the local people have? I recall in my travels throughout Asia and the middle east seeing so many people living in slums, eking out a living. The luxury hotels and tourist spots were often less than a mile away.

We might console ourselves by thinking, “Alright I’ll have a great time, give only a little to charity, and consider giving a little more in my will when I die.” So, we know when we will die, do we? Jesus spoke about this kind of thinking and the greed of always wanting more, despite already being wealthy, in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12. A very rich man wanted more and more and thought he could store his wealth for many years and relax and enjoy it. However, he was to die that night.

Jesus already knew what Zacchaeus wanted. His instruction was to “get out of that tree and follow me, and this is the pathway to true happiness. There does not seem to be much significance in it being a sycamore tree, except that those types of trees are hardy and big. But here’s what some historians have posited “The sycamore tree symbolizes the power of seeking spiritual

enlightenment and the potential for personal transformation. An The sycamore tree’s roots run deep in the history of Israel. It stood witness to the events that shaped the land throughout the ages.” How interesting!

Trying to do what Jesus taught leads to greater happiness and contentment. This does not mean that every disciple of Christ must sell all that they have and live in poverty; rather it means that we must always be focussed on God in how we behave. Everything that is given away is a form of stewardship – it is love in action. If we have no money to give away, then we must give something else, such as our time. This does not mean that we should feel guilty or ashamed of our wealth, but we should always be mindful that it may not last. Our lifestyles may be very quickly taken away from us. We all have to be mindful that managing our careers and busy lives does not become more important than serving others. We should always make time for our families and spiritual life. What good is being prosperous if one does not have the time to enjoy it and share it with others?

We should be mindful that our wealth and privilege does not make us arrogant and insensitive to the people around us. We may look upon other less fortunate than ourselves and subconsciously consider that they need to work harder or that it is their mistakes that have kept them where they are. We cannot scoff at people who volunteer to do so much for other people without taking any payment.

Wealth is often a result of very hard work, and prosperity and success should be enjoyed. But if we profess to be true Christians, then we have a duty to share our prosperity with others. We must always give thanks for what we have. Somebody will always have more than us. We all fall short and fail in the first commandment each time we lack generosity in showing genuine love for each other. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” We will all have treasure in heaven. We are the ones who suffer when we let wealth or work cut us off from other people and remove us from a relationship with God. We must recognise that everything we have comes from him. Zacchaeus teaches us that when you make a solid effort to experience Jesus, you are rewarded.

The solution is not to try harder to be good, but to accept God’s love; If we do this, we learn that we can trust God for the things we really need in life, and then everything will fall into place.

Amen.

Rev Barry Hanson

PET BLESSING SERVICE 2023

A burglar creeping through a house at night was disturbed by an eerie voice, not quite human, saying “JESUS IS WATCHING YOU!” Shining his torch around he eventually found the voice belonged to a parrot, so he relaxed. “And who might you be?” he asked the parrot. “King David”, replied the parrot. “What kind of person gives their parrot a name like King David?” he sneered. The parrot replied “The same kind of person who calls their rottweiler Jesus!”

Pets as family members, companions and maybe protectors (as in the story). Think of all that this means – mutual dependency and support. Love your neighbour as yourself – including animal neighbours.

Pets as therapists, gurus, role models. The ‘Mindfulness’ of pets – Wendell Berry’s poem ‘The peace of wild things’ …

Our pets are not wild but are closely related to their wild cousins and remind us of them and of our responsibilities towards the whole animal kingdom (Genesis 1 our call is to be Stewards … not Consumers!)

Pets as God’s creatures can be a window into the world for us; a mirror in which we see ourselves more clearly: a door through which we can improve and grow and make the world better. We train them and they can train us too.

Pets give us a foretaste of heaven – Isaiah Harmonious relationships with animals at centre of Isaiah 11 vision. Jesus born in a stable amongst domestic animals, lived lightly on the planet, enabling flourishing.

Many of our pets are ‘Rescue animals’ – sad that that’s necessary but a reminder that we are all rescue animals too. We take special care of a pet who may have been mistreated in the past. Jesus is also especially protective of people who have suffered or been exploited and harmed.

We rescue pets and they can rescue us – from loneliness, anxiety, selfishness – they may even help us make new human friends. Maybe they are part of God’s rescue plan for us all – as our Rescuer Jesus completes his mission, saving us from futility and fear so we can flourish in this world and the next.

Rev Drew Tweedy

Luke 9:1-6 The Mission of the Twelve

Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

* * * * * * *

Let’s prepare for the mission! Only take what you need folks! I am sure the first question would be “what mission?”, quickly followed by “where are we going?” and “for how long?” Then after a little more thought, the questions would come thick and fast:

How much money do we need?

Where are we staying?

Will it be cold?

What’s the food like?

Can I take my own pillow?

Who else is going?

The questions soon transform into statements:

I’ll ask if Doris wants to come too.

It will rain you know … it always rains.

The train is too busy in the morning, and outrageously expensive.

I hope we won’t have to do too much walking.

Bill, you can have a lift with Tony; he knows the way.

What do we know about these people?

Who is going to do the risk assessments? Steve might have an old one we can change.

Now if I said it was a day trip to London to visit the Science Museum that would influence what you would bring. If I said it was Hyde Park, you might bring some different things. How many of us would set out for London without taking anything? What if I said we were going to Broad Street in Oxford? Many of you might take extra money as there is a large Waterstones bookshop there.

What if you didn’t know where you were going? Just turn up here at 800 am tomorrow, and a minibus will meet you there; the destination is only a 2 hour drive away. You are only allowed a very small shoulder bag. Who’s in?

We like to be very prepared for any journey, no matter how long or short. I am sure none of us would deliberately go down to the shops to buy a loaf of bread and leave our money behind or set out in rainy weather without an umbrella.

Jesus sent out His 12 disciples to different places for a short time, so that they could preach about the new message of salvation. This may have been a kind of introductory apprenticeship, where they would have had to try out their new craft of preaching and persuading for the first time. It would have been a steep learning curve for all of them, as up until then, Jesus was doing all the talking and they were the active listeners. They now had to put into practice what they had learnt. Soon their missional journeys after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension would be much longer and more arduous. We don’t know where they were sent, nor for how long. We can assume it must have been for a few weeks around the Galilee area, as this episode is followed by the feeding of the 5000 on the northern shores of the sea of Galilee.

Even though the mission was short, they were clearly instructed to take nothing with them. They would have to do their preaching on street corners, in synagogues, and marketplaces. There was also a rule among the rabbis of the day that a person could not enter the temple area with a staff, shoes, or a moneybag, otherwise it would give the appearance of being engaged in other business than the service of the Lord. Perhaps they could have left their things outside, with someone keeping watch over them, but this would have been against Jesus’ instructions. Whatever the location, the message was urgent, and simple. The Messiah is present. His kingdom is different to what people expect, and he gathers a community of those who repent and believe. Carrying things would get in the way of the preaching of the simple message. They still needed places to sleep, and to eat. Jesus indicated that that they will be provided for, in that in some places they would be shown hospitality, by those who accepted the message, but at others they would be rejected, receiving no welcome. If that happened, they were told “just shake the dust off your feet and move on”. (This was also a sign that the disciples were to take nothing from the place that they left;) even the dust would be left behind.

The disciples were also given power and authority to heal, for both physical and psychological diseases. They could couple their words with actions, that gave real proof to what they were saying. “We say this about God, and we now demonstrate this through God’s power.”

We are called to proclaim the Good News. Sometimes we need equipment. But we can go without, and just use our mouths and actions. We can’t take any physical “stuff” to meet God in our prayers. We only have emotional baggage to bring. We are not restricted in what emotions we can take. The baggage can include good things and things that trouble us. The baggage can be happiness, confusion, indecision, anxiety, or sorrow. We have all been given powers too. Our first power is having the ability and confidence to bring these things to God.

God has called each one of us to be in a relationship with him. We are equipped for this journey, even if we don’t think so. We just have to ask.

What emotional baggage will you bring to God in prayer?

Amen.

Post script: If you could be given one other power, what would it be? Why?

Rev Barry Hanson

Philippians 1: 21 – end

Paul has had a rough time and been imprisoned for a long time, but it didn’t stop him writing to the new Christians in Galatia, Ephesus, Corinth, and now Philippi.

He has heard how faithful and generous the Philippians have been and wants to encourage them. He mentions that it is with great joy and contentment to suffer in Christ’s service. Paul knew and so did the Philippians, that true joy only comes through living humbly and serving one another in Christ’s name.

That is what is available to us today if we allow God’s gifts of love joy peace patience kindness goodness faithfulness gentleness and self-control to reign in our lives.

It’s not always easy, is it. When things go wrong, or our lives are tainted with pain or sadness or we see and hear all that is happening around the world, it’s hard to understand and feel joyful. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we become hardened to what is going on, but Paul says, ’Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ. Any comfort from his Love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, and working together with one mind and purpose’.

He carries on by saying be humble, don’t think yourselves better than everyone else. Be like Christ Jesus who humbled himself and came to earth as a baby, grew up to allow himself to be crucified to take away our sins and give us the chance of eternal life just because we say sorry for what we have done wrong and say ‘YES’ to following Christ. It’s that simple. So why do so many not take up God’s offer. I know it can sometimes seem like we have made the wrong choice, especially when some unbelievers seem to have easier lives. But we know what is waiting for us when our earthly lives come to an end.

As Paul says, ‘Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear, (as in honouring him) For God is working in you, giving you your heart’s desire and the power to do what pleases him’

In our second reading from Matt 21:23-32 we heard that Jesus is again being challenged by the leading priests and elders. They are wanting to trap him into saying something that they could arrest him for. He had been teaching in the synagogues, healing the sick, casting out demons clearing the temple with such authority, even on the Sabbath day! Who did he think he was. Who gave him the authority. They certainly hadn’t. They wanted to know by whose authority he was doing all these things.

Jesus knew what they were up to so he turned the tables on them but asking them a question. They had witnessed baptisms

and John saying ‘repent of your sins and return to God, for the Kingdom of heaven is near’. John could that see they were watching what he was doing and saying, but they were so full of their own importance that they couldn’t see that they too were in need of redemption.

Jesus knew this, so he posed the question, ‘Was the baptism John the Baptist did on all those people given by authority from God or man’. Ahh-a stumbling block to them. They couldn’t answer for fear of making the wrong decision. What gave Jesus the right to be in the temple and tell them how they should be living their lives.

I can imagine that Jesus was having a little game with them. So he gave them a story about a father and two sons. The older one was asked to do a task, said no, but then chose to do it. The other son also asked by the father to do the same task, and he said ‘yes’, but didn’t go. Jesus asked them who was doing his fathers will. They said the first son. Then Jesus, tongue in check I think, told them that those whom they, the priests and elders looked down on as sinful and corrupt, turned to God when John baptised them, but they refused God’s offer and walked away.

Have you ever had a feeling God was calling you, but you didn’t think you would be able to do it so ignored the call, but later took up the offer and found you were capable, and the benefits and joy of achieving it made you feel great. Or did you feel that God was calling you and you thought, ‘maybe I’ll give it a go’, but in the end forget or decide it’s not for you. What may you have missed out on.

The elders were great ones for expecting those they preached to should follow the laws, but they themselves were above reproach. How wrong they were.

All of us who have repented and accepted Jesus Christ as our Saviour and follow him, have all been given the Holy Spirit, so whatever we do in God’s name cannot fail. We have the been given the authority.

When we follow God’s calling, whether it’s being kind and helpful, taking up a position in the church to take some sort of responsibility, be it help in the kitchen, flower arranging, on the PCC etc, you’ll find job satisfaction and a joy because it is for the Lord you do it.

I never gave it a thought when I first believed in Jesus at the age of 40. Gradually over the years I felt confident to offer to go on the PCC, making the tea and coffee, never flower arranging, I’m hopeless at that. Then I began to enjoy telling people about Jesus and how my life had changed for the better. I thought it would be good to be more vocal and put my name forward to do the Lay Ministry course, not really knowing what was involved. 3 years of study and a degree at the end of it and permission to preach and teach. ME! I left school at 15 with no qualifications, so to go join a group, 7 in my group, all who have university

degrees to boot, I took the plunge. Because it was what God wanted me to do, I scraped through and in 2013 I was licenced. Oh, 10 years ago. Wow.

We are all called and authorised to be His body for God’s kingdom. Whether we have always believed or are new Christians, it’s not us who do what Jesus calls us to do, but the power of the Holy Spirit working through us.

Let us believe and remember to ‘Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper’ (Ps 37v3).

If you can believe, all things are possible if you believe (Mark 9:23).

It is more blessed to give then to receive (Acts 20:35).

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).

Carol Howard, LLM

Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus walks on the water

Introduction – a fun day out on the water

· Our punting/rowing trip on the Thames. We had intended to go ice-skating (…)

· Lots of fun/enjoyable things happened

· Our midstream boat swap – potentially soggy and embarrassing consequences were fortunately avoided!

· The weather was mostly pleasant and the company was great

· At no point did I consider walking on the water – I don’t think St Peter had either (or Jesus?)

Context of our gospel passage

· John Baptist beheaded and disciples told Jesus this news

· Jesus needed space to grieve and pray

· He had to teach and feed the 5,000 instead

· Then he got the chance to send his disciples ahead and get his grieving/praying time

How useful and relevant are the Bible’s miracle stories today?

· Pre-scientific people, superstitious about darkness & the sea. Gullible?

· Now we know this could not happen as described. Or do we? (Barry has a theory!)

· Speculations are a wild goose chase. Better to have a conversation with the text – and perhaps with its author and its inspiration …

Questions I have for the text

· Why did Jesus walk on the water? Was it really necessary? Was he showing off his super-powers?

· Answer – I don’t think he even thought about it. After a night in prayer and communion with his Father, perfect in faith, overflowing with compassion, saw the disciples struggling against the wind and just went to them.

· Is Jesus a ghost we should be afraid of? Was he playing a cruel trick on Peter?

· What did Peter learn by stepping out of the boat and what relevance does that have for me, trying to be Christian today?

· Answer – In the Bible (and for most people throughout history) the sea has been associated with danger, darkness, evil and chaos. (Not as a venue for leisure and safe travel). In this Bible story, Jesus walks straight over the top of all that. He masters evil, darkness, chaos and danger – and he is not distracted by what it may do to him, not controlled by its ‘drag down and destroy’ qualities. Jesus will not be distracted from his work of compassion, redemption and blessing.

· Remarkably, Peter discovers that he too could transcend his limitations, walking over the top of all that the rough sea represents, evil, chaos etc – so long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, his faith in Jesus. He would begin sinking if he lost this focus and this faith.

· You may have your own questions for the text, for the gospel writer, for Jesus or God the Father … ask your questions, don’t be afraid to ask.

Questions the text (or God) has for me

· Will I give sufficient time to solitary prayer, to meditation and communion with God? Do I use serving and doing things ‘for God’ as a distraction from the time I should be spending listening to and being with God?

· In rough waters will I get out of the boat and go towards Jesus?

· Do I want to transcend my limitations with God’s help?

· Am I limiting my vision of what God can do for and through me?

· Am I easily distracted from Jesus when I ‘see’ the wind – or rather, the damage and danger caused by the wind?

· Am I a doubter or lacking in faith? What can be done about this?

How to ‘be a blessing’

· I still have no plans to walk on water and doubt that I will do so any time soon. But I do hear God’s call to a richer, more disciplined prayer life. I also feel the urge to get out of my boat or comfort zone and, with my eyes fixed on Jesus, to transcend the limitations that I or other people have put on me, without any thought for my reputation or comfort. I can walk right over the top of evil, chaos and danger and my life can be a blessing.

· Will I do this, or will I be distracted and settle for something less?

· In her classic book Be a Blessing, Elizabeth Nagel writes:-

The potential tragedy, for both descendants of Abraham and disciples of Jesus, is that they trust God too little to risk making choices based on divine views of reality.

· Against much of life which preoccupies and distracts us, God IS trustworthy, Jesus is trustworthy, the HS is trustworthy…

· What remaining questions do you have for the text, or for God? What questions is this text asking you this morning – and how will you respond?

Rev Drew Tweedy

ACTS 5:12-16; LUKE 22 24-30

As I understand it, the ACTS OF THE APOSTLES is the only record of the Early Church in action. We have to make up our minds that ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’, as Paul writes to Timothy and that this is the Church ‘in revival mode’. Thus, in our first Reading from Acts, the Apostles perform many miraculous signs, the believers are held in awe and meet peaceably in Solomon’s Colonnade, more and more men and women come to faith, even Peter’s shadow heals the sick in the streets, and all those who are ill or tormented by spirits are healed. Note there are MANY miraculous signs; the believers are held IN AWE; and MORE AND MORE men and women are coming to faith; and there is an EXTENSIVE and HIGHLY EFFECTIVE HEALING MINISTRY.

In Acts there is the Day of Day of Pentecost; many individuals are healed; there are persecutions and martyrdom; two believers drop dead when they lie to Simon Peter; there are miraculous escapes from prison, and Stephen is stoned to death in front of Saul, who is eventually transformed into Paul on the Damascus Road. And all the time the Church is growing dramatically.

In our Gospel Reading today, there is a disagreement, apparently at the Last Supper, about who the greatest apostle might be. (We are reminded of that other disagreement about who would eat with Jesus in the coming Kingdom!) Jesus makes it very clear that, as far as he is concerned, it is NOT about who rules or gets served. Rather, it is the one who submits and serves – like Jesus Himself. And the apostles will be reconciled and be part of a Kingdom where there will one day become judges the 12 tribes of Israel.

So we are being presented with a vibrant, growing Church, where CHARACTER and CONDUCT run hand in hand. In our two Readings we are directed to the CHARACTER of the fledgling Church in the Gospel and the ACTIONS of the emerging Church in the Book of Acts.

The dispute at the last supper reminds us of other challenging passages In the Sermon on the Mount, particularly in the Beatitudes, we are given very high standards of behaviour, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit…’, ‘Blessed are those who mourn…’,’Blessed are the meek…’,’Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… ‘, and so on, and even THINKING about murder or adultery is as bad as committing it … and the disciples are told that their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Similarly, there are other blocks of teaching in the Gospels which are equally demanding.

Are in the Gospels, Simon Peter is a living example of a believer ‘getting things wrong’ and being forgiven: he is reluctant to go fishing again, he fails to see he is contradicting himself when he has just called Jesus the Messiah, he denies Jesus three times.

It is I believe in the Epistles of Paul (life in the Early Church after the Day of Pentecost) that we get the greatest vision of Christian character that contrasts with our Gospel Reading today.. In Romans 5:3-5, for example: “… suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.’

And then in Romans 12: 9-16 ‘love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, and so on.

And then in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes always perseveres. Love never fails.”

And then in Galatians, (5:22-23) ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’

Paul is giving us a REVELATION of Christian character after the Resurrection; in contrast, Jesus revealed his own CHARACTER before the Cross and the Resurrection. And through many other situations in the Epistles Paul and the other writers are similarly inspired to nudge us in the direction of the Holy Spirit; and, by divine inspiration, Paul and the others are painting us a picture of God’s character which is imparted to men and women by the Holy Spirit.

But how does this relate to the Church? The Church as such is only mentioned three times in the Gospels (just three times in Matthew), presumably because the focus is on the birth of the Church in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. However, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, who is Lord of the Church, was also moving on individuals in the Gospels and bringing forth God’s character in them before the Church was established: for example, in John the Baptist, in Mary, and the apostles when Jesus sends them out to minister in his Name and as they learn to relate to Him and one another in daily life.

There seems to be an emphasis on doing Jesus’ deeds rather than becoming Christ-like in character (although the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount focus on character).For example, in Luke 9, verses 1and 2, it says: ‘When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick’. However, with certain individuals like the Virgin Mary in the Magnificat her character of humility seems to be gently alluded to by the Holy Spirit. She prophesies in Luke 1: 46-47:

‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant …’

This points to another difference before and after the birth of the Church: that certain individuals prophesy before Pentecost, and then after Pentecost all the believers in Acts 2 receive the power to speak in other languages and prophesy together. According to Peter they have received ‘ the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2: 39); and Paul later describes in 1 Corinthians 12 that there are 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in different kinds of languages and interpretation of these languages), just as he had already described 9 fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, meekness, faith, self-control).So,

as in our two Readings today, the Holy Spirit is shaping the Church by moulding the character of the believers.

To summarise: there is no contradiction between a dispute in the Gospels and an empowered Church reaching out in the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit in everyday situations is moulding the character of the believers more are more, so that they can become a dynamic church.

Encouraged by our two Readings, let us in turn focus on CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, so we can become a MORE VIBRANT CHURCH!

Rev Ian Howard