Monday, 21 August 2017

A house of prayer for ALL peoples

Has anyone experienced being deliberately left out of a game in the playground or even worse because it is so public standing in a line waiting to be picked for a team – each time hoping that they are going to pick you and every time being overlooked – even by your friends?
Being excluded is profoundly uncomfortable.
Being excluded by God because you were not born Jewish would feel absolutely awful wouldn’t it?
The Jews were of course the “chosen people” , which of course means that other peoples. Including us were not chosen.
Being marked out like this has been both a blessing and a curse. I remember during one of my favourite films – Fiddler on the roof – after yet another tragedy Tevye looks up to heaven and says “Lord I know we are the chosen people, but just once in a while, couldn’t you choose someone else?”

But the question is “For what purpose were the Jews chosen”?

They were chosen to be a light to the gentiles. God’s purpose was to speak through the Jews to reach the whole world.

We heard Isaiah Today saying that the Temple in Jerusalem was to be a house of prayer for all nations!

Jesus actually refers to Isaiah’s prophesy that the Temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be “house of prayer for all peoples” just before he cleared out the moneychangers if you remember rightly.

Paul in his letter says that God’s promises to the Jews can never be revoked but the promises made to the world through the Jews were answered and fulfilled by Jesus Christ because the Jews were only ever partially successful in being a guiding light to the world.

Jesus uses a term from gardening and agriculture. We are “grafted in” to the vine that was the Jewish nation, but of course, Jesus declares in John’s gospel that the “true vine” is Jesus Himself, who took over the role of being “the light to the gentiles”.

Bearing in mind all this the exchange with the foreign woman is completely out of character.
But one thing the Bible is not able to transmit is tone of voice and context.

Given what we have just said Jesus could never have referred to the lady, and by implication all foreigners as dogs. So what is going on.

And the proof of that is twofold. Not the slightest hint of any offence is indicated by the woman in the text – in fact she joins in the fun and says “well yes, but even the doggies get the crumbs off the master’s table” and the greatest proof that Jesus was kidding is that the woman’s faith is commended and her daughter is healed instantly.
Salvation came to her house.

Jesus seems to have been playing with both the woman and his disciples, by first stating something he obviously didn’t believe in.

“I have only come to the house of Israel – not you foreigners.”

And it cannot convey sarcasm – but scholars do know that the word Jesus uses is a diminuitive form of the word so it is more affectionate term like “doggies” or puppies or house dogs.
He is teasing both the woman and his own disciples and poking fun at the fierce exclusivism that had taken hold in some quarters.

Salvation is for all people, but even the word “salvation” has become a distant, disconnected, plastic, theoretical theological concept that doesn’t immediately scratch where we are itching.

Another word for salvation is healing. The root of the word salvation is “salve”, to soothe, to lighten, to comfort, to ease.

If you can make that connection you have a better chance of personally appropriating the notion of salvation for yourself.

Because the word has accrued a distant, disconnected, plastic, theoretical theological concept kind of meaning that doesn’t immediately scratch where we are itching.

Do you want salvation? Dunno really, do I?
Do you want healing, soothing, rest for your soul, saving from yourself or your enemies, making whole again, have everything put right? Yes, I do.

This is what Jesus offers because it is what God has always wanted to offer to all of us, and God works through Jesus, born a Jew, to speak to the whole world.

Approach Jesus in faith and this is what he offers despite our present circumstances no matter how dire they may be or what nationality you are. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

The still, small voice of God

1 Kings 19: 9-18 (page 301 in our pew Bibles) The still small voice of God speaks to Elijah, called a low whisper in our translation, or "a thin silence" in some others. God can speak to us in any way He likes but it certainly doesn't have to be dramatic.
Romans 10: 5-15 (page 946 in our pew Bibles) The assurance of salvation has to be preached. This is the solemn duty of every minister of the gospel.
Matthew 14: 22-33 (page 820 in our pew Bibles) The authority of God in Christ extends over all creation. Peter only shares in that authority while he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus

A favourite hymn of some in this church is a hymn called “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine”.
And you know that is I suggest one of the major differences between Christianity and all other religions.
In some Eastern religions who believe in reincarnation where you go and what you become are determined by how good or otherwise you have been.
In Islam your fate is in the hands of a distant, unknowable deity and while Allah can do as he pleases salvation is again believed to be determined by how good you have been.
In both cases, salvation, your future, is determined by “works” as the Bible puts it.
To put it in prosaic terms, whether you go to heaven or not is determined by what you do here on earth but nothing is guaranteed because we all know how far we can stray from the straight and narrow..
People often wonder why Christianity is called “Good news” which is what the word “Gospel” means.
It means you have absolute assurance of entry to the kingdom of God not by what you have done or not done but by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Faith in God’s grace (his free and unmerited love) demonstrated on the cross means that we believe that anything that stood in the way of our entry to heaven or the Kingdom of God was cleared away and forgiven, clearing the way for us to be granted that holy status as a child of God.
And in simply stating that to you all this morning I have fulfilled Paul’s call spelled out in his letter today. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news” (v. 15)
You have that blessed assurance that your soul is clean and you are a child of God when we put our faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross. Our sins are forgiven and we have access to the kingdom through faith in God’s Love.
Making that claim loud and clear is what Paul is concerned with.
But how is that claim confirmed in our hearts. How does God communicate with us. How does He speak?
On one level he can speak through monumental acts like the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but as  is recounted in the first letter of Kings today He spoke to Elijah not through a mighty wind or an earthquake but in a “still small voice, in the translation we use it is referred to as “a low whisper” or in some others in “a thin silence” which is very mysterious and evocative.
It conjures up notions of having your conscience pricked, or a strange feeling in your gut, being mysteriously drawn in one direction or another.
You can be struck by a particular phrase or sentence of scripture even though you may have heard it scores of times before.
Sometimes words can appear in your mind or even “heard”. I have only one experience of this personally. My first wife, who died, was a very down to earth woman not given to flights of fancy but when I was trying to decide whether to go forward into public ministry in the church she was sitting on our front doorstep having a cigarette contemplating, and came in and said that she had heard words spoken to her in a soft whisper and the words were
“Feed my sheep”
Words which have propelled me in my ministry ever since.
God speaks to us also through other people (and they don’t have to be Christians or aware that God has acted through them) and through situations – both good and bad.
God speaks through Jesus’ teaching and occasions in the Bible. One such is the walking on the water incident which on one level is a description of God’s transcendent power over the created order – but the most important part of that story is not concerned with Jesus directly at all but with Peter.
Peter can walk on the water as well – that is the point – but only all the while that he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. As soon as he is distracted, his gaze wavers, and he starts to sink and Jesus has to haul him out.
And there lies the message on this passage. Not a spectacular stunt to amaze your friends, but in all things and in all situations keep your eyes fixed on Jesus because he transcends all situations and all calamities. 
If we don’t, when storms come, and they WILL come, we can metaphorically sink and be overcome by the storms of life. But keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and the good news he brings and let that be the dominant voice in our predicaments we can transcend all situations. We can walk on water.
God will have spoken to you all in one way or another in your life, otherwise I doubt many of you would be here today. What we need is to pray that our antennae are turned on and sharpened so we can hear what is so often a still small voice.
Let us pray.
Father you come to us and speak to us in many and various ways. Help us first of all to be expecting you to do so and secondly to be able to discern your voice amongst the clamour and noise in this world.


Monday, 7 August 2017

We were eyewitnesses of his majesty

The Transfiguration.
Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14 (page 744 in our pew Bibles). This Apocalyptic book here describes God the Father (the ancient of days) and one like a "son of man" (human being) who will be given an everlasting indestructible kingdom. Christians believe this one "like the son of man" is Jesus Christ and  in fact "Son of man" was Jesus' favourite way of referring to himself, relating back to the prophet Daniel.  
2 Peter 1:16-19 (page 1018 in our pew Bibles) Saint Peter confirms that he bore witness to the event on the "Holy mountain" and doesn't follow "cleverly devised myths". 
Luke 9: 28-36 (page 867 in our pew Bibles) A vision or miracle that Jesus doesn't perform but this happens to Jesus. In this Epiphany the reality of Jesus' being is revealed. He is the son of man to whom all dominion is given by God the Father.

Just after Christmas we have the season called Epiphany – a series of revelations of just who this person Jesus actually is and we normally major on the Baptism of Jesus or the visit of the Magi, but here today we have the most striking revelation of who Jesus is in the episode called the Transfiguration.

On a mountain called Holy by Peter – Made holy by what he saw happen there – Jesus was transfigured before his very eyes.

He witnessed Jesus’ face altered and his clothes became a dazzling white, and alongside him stood Elijah and Moses – representing the law and the prophets – the entire Jewish religion – consulting with Jesus and talking about what he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem – a willing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world to bring all things back to God which the created order had abandoned.

Years later, referring to that incident, Peter writes that he doesn’t follow any cleverly devised myths about Jesus – he was an eyewitness to what actually happened on that Mountain.

Further to what I’ve already described on that Holy Mountain, God Himself spoke out of a cloud and repeated the words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”.

God almighty, the ancient of days, Jesus’ Father, tells us exactly who Jesus is and why we should listen to him.
Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one prophesied in Daniel, the one like a son of man in whom all dominion is to be vested., who is given an everlasting kingdom that will never die and cannot be destroyed.

Jesus’ worth, his gravity and greatness, which in the Bible is called his GLORY was on that Holy Mountain revealed.

The significance of this event cannot be exaggerated.

That Jesus professed the self-awareness that this was his identity and mission is made clear in that Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself is the “Son of man” – not a chance phrase, but a direct reference to the prophesy in Daniel that speaks of the one like a son of man that God gives this dominion.

Jesus knew he was the son of man who through the Father’s words is also son of God who would accomplish all things for God.

What is the significance for all of this for us?

With apologies to those for whom the significance is obvious I will spell it out. 

Jesus is not just a great moral teacher, or a great religious leader amongst many others, as the liberal relativists would have us believe,

The gospel is that Jesus is the end of all religion and is God incarnate. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:19.

In case it has escaped your attention, every single one of us is a part of the world, the entire created order, so Jesus has ultimate significance for every single one of us!

All authority has been given to Jesus, so our relationship with Him really matters. Our past present and future is bound up with who Jesus is, and everyone really knowing who Jesus is and what he has done for them.

The whole of the Hebrew scriptures are basically a record of God’s promises made to mankind that we will be eventually redeemed, when all things will be put right, in a future where there shall be no more pain, sorrow or death. In a glorious future where Heaven and earth are swept away and heaven and earth become one and life goes on for ever where each chapter of life is more glorious that the last.

A future beyond our comprehension, but a future that we can glimpse from time to time through religious experiences made possible by the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus those promises are all fulfilled.

As Peter said this morning we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which we will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, and the morning star rises in our hearts, for the prophesy written by Daniel did not come from his own heart but was put there by the holy Spirit of God.

This truth was realised on that Holy Mountain. As Thomas came to realise after the resurrection we can say with him. “My Lord and my God”.