Sunday, 25 March 2012

The suffering servant

Lent 5 year B Sermon 
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He took up our pain and bore our suffering.

What you just heard is one of the great prophesies of Scripture. No words could more powerfully articulate the fact of Atonement…at…one…ment. Humanity reconciled to God

And the only form of service… for Isaiah’s suffering servant
…is to suffer.

Slide words
The servants work
is to bear our grief and be bruised for our healing.

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In the religion of the ancient Hebrews…the sacrificial system bore witness…to humanities deepest fears…
and longings and here in this prophesy… the word sacrifice appears for the first time…linked with a Messianic vision

May be the suffering servant is merely a personification
of the nation of Israel… only image and metaphor…
or perhaps as I believe…it’s the greatest prophesy in history … as Isaiah dreams of a redeeming saviour…a Messiah …like none imagined…a servant who will suffer and die because of human sin…and whose suffering…
will only be understood… after his death… when the servant sees his offspring… and the good that comes from them.

And we believe it don’t we…that we are forgiven and healed. We acknowledge as sin…the harm we’ve done and do…
on purpose…against God or God’s children…including ourselves
New slide reveals on the word
The Christian word for that… is conviction

And if we are sorry…we feel remorse and even shame…
the word for that is contrition.

And when we decide with God’s help… never to repeat it…when we turn from it…that is repentance.

We hear the word of forgiveness in First John 1:9
slide words
If we confess our sins God who is faithful and just… will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But how does that work if we hang on to the guilt?
When we really believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
But for some reason we still… carry round
a burden of guilt and shame. What’s going on? [Pause]

Makarora slide
Well I was asking myself the same question recently… during a two day retreat… to savour some silence in the presence of God.  I went with no agenda… praying only that God would reveal God’s will for me… during that time.

As I read my Bible prayed and rested I became intensely aware of feelings of guilt rising in me around issues of parenting… The teenage years were hard to get through…
 These feelings were familiar to me
I’d carried them round for 20 years or more…like a great load of wood on my back…
Even though …today my adult daughter and I have a wonderful loving relationship…and I have complete faith in God’s forgiveness and mercy through Jesus. So I asked God

Why…. does the burden of guilt still feel so heavy?

And do you know… what answer… came back to me?

Because you have never asked me to lift it off you…
You insisted on continuing to carry it …
and you can’t put it down by yourself. [pause]

Now I’ll be honest with you…I’ve always felt a bit wary
of metaphors for sin that involve concepts like weights
but a line from an old hymn just kept coming back to me…
the weight of sin laid on him there…and Jesus words to Peter the night he was betrayed…unless you let me wash you …

At first I resisted…thinking…
Jesus you’ve got enough to worry about …
I don’t want to burden you…I’ve got to carry this myself…

And suddenly I could see just how ridiculous that was…
how contrary to Jesus bearing the cost of God’s love for us on the cross… and still now as risen saviour

 So I asked Jesus… to lift off the burden of guilt from me…

And in my mind’s eye… the great weight I’d carried
was lifted up by Jesus. And when I asked…
what he was going to do with it … Jesus replied…
that’s none of your business...And right there and then…
I understood my part… in the cross of Christ…
You know at times it seems the greatest distance in the world is the seventeen inches between our head and our heart.

We may know God’s will in our heads, but our some part of our life remains unchanged.  But when God’s will becomes our hearts desire… then we must let God serve us…
as God wills.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus’ suffering was
slide words
to fulfil what was spoken through the servant song of the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

In the great prophesy of Isaiah we are made to understand that some human grief and sorrow…
are afflictions that arise from the harm we do to ourselves and to others

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and also in the prophesy… are spoken the deepest word of all … it is the will of our creator God…to lay upon his servant the crushing burden of human suffering and sin.

Here in both Isaiah and in Matthew…is the Hebrew word for disease…and in this we see the harm we do… is both…
the sickness and the sorrow… which most afflicts humanity.  And the word used for the Servant’s
taking our burden on His shoulders…implies not only the taking of it… but bearing away… the heavy load.

And make no mistake…Isaiah’s suffering servant
feels the weight of affliction that He takes away.
Jesus believed his vocation was to take the mantle of Israel upon himself…a calling bound up inextricably…
with suffering. And were we to apply Isaiah’s prophesy to Jesus suffering …there’s no escaping
the very pain he endures because of our us…stands in direct proportion… to His power to end our suffering.

And in this we see in Jesus… the highest most sacrificial example of how we ought to love. As a great 19th century biblical scholar reflected… ‘Whoever would lighten another’s load… must stoop his own shoulders to carry it.’

In Isaiah’s sad dream…the reason for the Servant’s willing and silent suffering is our wrongdoing. No matter how trivial or how grave… He bears the consequence of sins He did not commit…and that my friends is the cost of salvation…
of healing our broken relationship with God…
the cost bourn by God on the cross.

Were we standing with the disciples at the foot of the cross, faith in God’s kindness and mercy could scarcely survive. But read in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy, our understanding rises… to be faith in the atoning sacrifice
of Him who was wounded there for our transgressions.

And as I found on my retreat in Makarora
for me to be completely free…. it had to be.

Yet through this suffering and death …
Isaiah tells us there is hope for the prophet also dreams the suffering servant will see benefit of his suffering after he dies. When the very knowledge of his sacrifice will restore many into right relationship with God and one another.
Slide words
When knowledge of him will justify many.

We express our faith in this… every time we share the bread and the wine together as a congregation.
Every time we remember Jesus’ words;

Slide words
This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The work of the suffering servant…the work we so closely examine as Easter approaches…that work…

is the kindness and mercy of our God. That work is salvation.

Let us reflect on this as we listen. And if anything has touched you in this message and there’s a burden of guilt you have yet to put in Jesus hands…I encourage you to do it now.

The kindness of our God lyrics with MP3

Please stand and join me in our confession of faith adopted by the last General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

footnote: I am grateful to 

Expositions of Holy Scripture: Isaiah and Jeremiah

Author:MacLaren, Alexander (1826-1910)

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What return shall I make?

Lent 3 year B Sermon  ‘What return shall I make?’
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It’s fundamental to the Christian faith… that all you and I have…our life in all its fullness…the earth and all that sustains us… are a gift from God. A gift freely given to us in love…not earned…not a right…not even deserved…
but a gift of God’s grace.

And as you just heard…from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s …it’s fundamental to being the Church
that we respond to God’s grace… with gratitude. 

Henry Ward Beecher once said that
Word slide
gratitude is the fairest blossom that springs from the soul.

But did you know scientists have now discovered
that gratitude itself… is actually good for you?

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Whether you call what God has given you…a gift or a blessing or simply a grace…however you name it…
it turns out it’s healthy…. spiritually and emotionally and even physically… to practise being grateful.

Let’s try an experiment with this right now. With your neighbour, I want you to talk about the top three things you’re grateful to God for… in your life.

Question slide

I don’t know about you but I always feel better when I make a list of all the things I’m grateful for.

At a particularly bad time in my twenties…I carried around a list of all the things I had to be grateful for and I looked at it every day. It really helped.

Maybe Paul recognised this when he told the church in Thessalonika…

Slide words
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Book cover slide
In his book the Happiness Advantage
Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor says he has evidence that happiness creates successnot the other way around.
And this is contrary to what our competitive culture
wants us to believe… that success will make us happy.

At first even the name of the book… made me sceptical,
but I found it gives clear scientific evidence…
to back up its claims.  And one of the most intriguing things the author discovered… is the link between gratitude and happiness.

In one study… every afternoon for just a few days…
a group of people were asked to write down the things in their life they were grateful for….

And the results were astounding.
Not only did participants report feeling much happier during the study… but they continued to feel happier
after …and this was compared to a control group…
who weren’t asked to write a gratitude list…

It seems the simple act of remembering their blessings
had a huge impact… on the lives of those who did.
So this Harvard professor concludes…

gratitude isn’t just a social nicety;
but it’s essential for our well-being and our happiness. Gratitude allows us to stop dwelling on the negative and begin to see the positive around us…that we easily miss.

Twelve step recovery groups talk about cultivating an attitude of gratitude…and a great spiritual discipline we can all begin is to write down our blessings at the end of each day. When you do you’re likely to notice your sense of wellbeing grow.

This isn’t just a meaningless ritual. God knows what’s good for us…when we’re positive…our brains are more motivated, energetic, resilient, and creative. This discovery’s been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in neuroscience and even management studies around the globe.

And this lines up perfectly with the biblical principles that shape our belonging to the Body of Christ…

Slide words
give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.

in the Messianic Age…the age of the new covenant …as you heard in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s…gratitude
not regulation must be the motivation for all we do…
in response to God’s love

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And that’s great news isn’t it? As Christians no longer do we have a religious tax…what used to be called a tithe in the Old Testament…where every good Jew
was expected to give a tenth of what they had …

But if tithing is no longer expected then what is?
I find a lot of people are confused about what is expected of them in this regard. We know we should thank God in prayer and in service to the church and community…but just how are we supposed to express our gratitude to God financially

Well…I think the passage we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s this morning…is a great guide for us. It sets out five principles for Christian giving to the church.

Slide words
First, Paul tells us… giving as an expression of gratitude should be done regularly. Paul writes…Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so when I come no collections have to be made.

Just as we might make a regular list of what we have to be grateful for…we’re to make a regular gift of gratitude for the support of the church…

And Paul was just being practical… because it’s easier to give small amounts frequently than large amounts
on a monthly or annual basis… and practical…
because every church has ongoing needs and financial obligations …that have to be paid for every week.

The second principle Paul sets down… is that our financial slide words
expression of gratitude to the church should be proportionate Reveal
As it says in our reading…
a sum of money in keeping with your income

Not be a fixed proportion, but a sliding scale depending on how much you have… no percentage is given.

Now this would’ve been an ideal place
for Paul to bring in tithing but he doesn’t mention it.
He only says that if anyone has prospered greatly
they should give back greatly. And if you’ve only prospered a little…then smaller gift is completely acceptable.

Thirdly, Paul says
Slide words
every believer is to give. Paul says "each of you" Corinthians should contribute to the collection. No matter how small your contribution may be…every Christian should steward their
resources… so they can give to support the work of the church. At least that’s how Paul saw it in the Messianic Age.

And we find principles 4 5 and 6 for Christian giving in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian’s …number four is

slide words
Giving motivated by gratitude for the grace of God.

Paul writes…
since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see you also excel in this grace of giving.

And principle 5
Slide words
give of your own accord voluntarily
Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us
for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations

Slide words
And six…Christian giving is driven by loving relationship with God and on another
They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us…generous giving proves the genuineness of a Christian's love

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Finally Paul says he’s never going to insist…or order them to give…I’m not commanding you he tells the reluctant Corinthians… but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,
so you through his poverty might become rich. [pause]

As we journey toward Easter through the season of Lent
the place we truly learn the art of Christian giving
is at the foot of the cross.

We each need to ask ourselves is our giving to the church based on the gratitude we feel to God or do we come at it with resentment and reluctance and even indifference. 

We have 110 families who say they want to be actively involved in our church. If everyone were to be just a cup of coffee a week more grateful…just a cup of coffee you might buy in a cafĂ©…we wouldn’t be running a deficit of twenty five thousand dollars this year – even with the fund raising for the gala.

Now I think the main reason for this is that our congregation just didn’t know about how big the deficit is going to be. I think your hearts are in the right place and that you are cheerful givers…full of gratitude to God.

And let’s be clear about this…I’m not talking about our Family Connections Manager and her work…
because that’s funded by a grant from the Synod

and I’m not talking about our church extension either… because the lion’s share of that will be paid for
from the sale of property and another grant from Synod.

I’m talking about our being twenty five thousand dollars short in the day to day… best practise …
running of the church…I’m talking about the mission
I know you want our church to be doing
in the community…in the name of Jesus…

like my work with our teenagers to build their faith …at this stage we can’t even feed them after school from the church budget…we can’t fund the mentoring of students at Mount Aspiring College we’re committed to in partnership with the school and the Anglican Church… And we have no money to give to overseas emergency appeal hardship except what’s donated on Christmas Day or by the APW.

But because I know you actually care…I’m not going to hide the truth from you…instead I hope you’ll resolve to match your giving to your blessings…
in the full understanding of the situation of our church.

The Bible says that generous and willing giving occurs when the love is the motive. It’s my experience that this congregation is full of love for God for each other and for the community…and for the generations who will worship in this church…so let’s do it…lets show our gratitude by increasing our weekly giving in keeping with our incomes…Reg and I have… so I hope you will too.

Gratitude slide
Let’s count our blessings and name the things we’re grateful for and every day ask ourselves…what return can I make for all this…And through Jesus let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips
that give thanks to His name.