I recall hearing the story of Naaman (2 Kings 5) as a child. I think I was stunned to think that a leper had to walk along and call out “Unclean, unclean.” How embarrassing! How frightening!
In Biblical times leprosy was incurable and it was feared. Yet, of course, leprosy is a sign only visible on the skin’s surface. The disease would have taken hold internally ages before it was visible. Leprosy was incurable in those days just as sin, which like leprosy takes hold internally, was incurable too. By ourselves we can do nothing about the problem of sin.
The leper was isolated from his/her community. Sin separates us from God and often from our community.
Lepers start to see discolouration of their skin before areas become numb or muscles atrophy. Sin is like this. Humans become separated from God, their hearts harden and spiritually speaking they die. Often we are not aware of this, but we become insensitive to all that God desires for us.
As the Lord healed Naaman the picture became obvious. His power to cleanse the leper demonstrated he was the solution to human sin and defilement; he alone was and is the means of reconciliation.
The term “cure” in 2 Kings 5:3 literally meant, “to receive back.” This provides us with a fitting picture of our reconciliation to God and to one another.
Namaan held a high position, but had a very great problem. We need to understand that God often uses the personal failures, sicknesses, and problems we have as a means to bring us to the end of ourselves and to a knowledge of the Lord and His salvation. God uses problems in life to force us to face our deeper problem, the problem of sin, and the need of God’s forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
So much from a sweet story about a servant girl and an illustrious leader. To the small boy that was all it was, but as I read it now I see so much more there.
The cover of our pew sheet displays the nine Gifts of the Spirit, which is a Biblical term that sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accord with the Holy Spirit, according to chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (5.22) The fruit is contrasted with the works of the flesh which immediately precede it in this chapter.
The first fruit is love. This love in Greek is agape and denotes an undefeatable benevolence and goodwill that always seeks the highest good for others, no matter their behaviour. It is a love that gives freely without asking anything in return. Agape is more a love by choice than philos, which is love by chance; and it refers to the will rather than the emotion. Agape describes the unconditional love God has for the world and which all have experienced. We have to ask ourselves if we display it in daily living.
Of the other eight we have some understanding of the words and qualities under discussion. They are grouped together and likened to fruit, which is the natural product of many living things.
The Fruit of the Spirit is produced by the Spirit, not by the Christian. The Greek word is singular, showing that “fruit” is a unified whole, not independent characteristics. As we grow, all the characteristics of Christ will be manifested in our lives. Yet, like physical fruit needs time to grow, the fruit of the Spirit will not ripen in our lives overnight.
As we give the Spirit more control of our lives, He begins to do in and through us what only He can do - to shape us and grow us to look like Jesus. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being trans-formed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Our task is to be open to the Holy Spirit and so allow him to do his work in us.
Bless you as you open yourself to him.
Today is Pentecost and we give thought to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity.
We read in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Wow! There is a statement. Can you honestly say that? Martin Luther says of this statement, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…”
So, what a magnificent role the Spirit plays in our lives. Many outside the Church cannot fathom the truths that we proclaim. Many think our beliefs beyond comprehension, and they are to a degree, but for the work and ministry of the
Holy Spirit. So, thank you Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have to be a puzzle for us. Our reading today from Romans help us out.
The Holy Spirit Points to Christ
When Paul speaks of the power of the Spirit in these verses he points to our inclusion in God’s family. The Spirit makes us “children of God” (8:14) and so intertwines our lives with Jesus that we now understand God as a Father or even a “Daddy” (as Abba might be translated - see 8:15). In addition, Paul suggests we are now “heirs” with Christ (8:17). In other words, all that the Son shares with the Father (peace, life, righteousness) has now been bequeathed to us as well.
The Holy Spirit is a Gift
The Holy Spirit (not to be confused with the human spirit) is not something that resides in us or is under our control. We are speaking of God and a force beyond
human manipulation. Like the wind, the Holy Spirit is not something we can manage or direct (Acts 2:2).
But the Holy Spirit does have an agenda: he wants to bring us into a relationship with Jesus. As Romans 8:15-17 says, God seeks to make us his children by adoption.
The talk of heirship and suffering
Suffering for Christ does not cast doubt on our heirship. If, indeed, we suffer, we will also be glorified with Him. You are going to share his glory and be a member of his family.
Maybe you're not sure that you're in the family. Some people have that confused. Some people think they're born into the family, and others are afraid they'll never get into the family. We're not born into it. "Children of God" is something we become.
Maybe you've never become a child of God because you've never acknowledged your sinfulness and your need of a Saviour. You've never put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died for you and paid the penalty of your sin. Read over Romans 8.14-17 carefully and ask yourself whether you are included or not.
You have probably heard a variety of prayers before meals in your lifetime: ‘Two four six eight, dig in don’t wait!’ and ‘Grace!’ among them. I always give thanks, but sometimes it is a silent action. I don‘t need to make a spectacle of myself.
An acquaintance of mine, Iain Radvan, recently wrote, “Giving thanks before a meal can be one of the simplest and most heart-felt of prayers that an individual or group can say. It is not always spoken aloud – I believe that an unspoken ‘yummy’ or the appreciative sniff of an aroma is giving thanks to God and to the cook. Grace before meals can be extended to voicing thanks for other blessings that have come a person’s way during the day.”
“When I say ‘thank you’ before I eat, I am mindful not only of the cook, but, all in a second, of the Earth that provided the seed and soil, of the farmers who nurtured the plants, of the life and death of the animals, of the drivers who distributed the food and the shopkeepers who sold it. This meal and this prayer connects me to the whole Earth community. I feel humbled and truly grateful.”
So, that simple prayer might contain a wealth of ‘thanksgivings’, all offered in the blinking of an eye. Thank you Lord.
Tuesday 5 March 2019 is Shrove Tuesday. To mark this occasion, we shall have the chance to gather and eat pancakes together between 6 – 7 pm in the church lounge.
Shrove Tuesday (also known in Commonwealth countries and Ireland as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent.
Most of our services are based around Holy Communion. In some churches this is also called eucharist (Greek for thanksgiving) and the Lord’s Supper. I think of the service as more than thanksgiving, although I appreciate the verb was used by Jesus, “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks (εὐχαριστήσας) he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.” (Mark 14.23)
I think of the Lord’s Supper as that service we remember on Maundy Thursday. It was when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples.
For me Holy Communion is right term as it is the time I recall quietly and privately at reception the sacrifice made by Jesus for me on the cross and think on his return. I appreciate the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Anglicans consider Holy Communion to be one of the sacraments of the Church. The bread and wine are considered outward symbols of an inward and spiritual grace received by the faithful as the instruments of God's grace.
We tend to use the term altar a lot. Altars are places where sacrifices are offered and yet at a service of Holy Communion I think of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. His death was once for all time. Yet I know that many will talk about the sacrifice of our worship and we often say, “Father we offer ourselves as living sacrifices …”
As a boy I attended a Norman church and the altar was a most elaborate altar with the most extravagant cloths laid over it. Underneath was a simple pine trestle table. Nothing could have been more simple! Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, father of the Reformation in England, stated that Holy Communion should be conducted on a board with a fair linen cloth on it. No mention of altar.
So, here are some of my thoughts around Holy Communion. What are yours? You might like to share them with those near you.
In one parish the girls in the youth group told me that 1 Corinthians 13 was their school reading. In another parish and referring to a different school the girls in the youth group told me that 1 Corinthians 13 was their school scripture reading. Today I wonder if our schools have selected scripture readings as they seek to be all things to all people, but is that the cynic in me talking?
In 1 Corinthians 13 the author, Paul, introduces the theme of love just at the right time, after being critical of the local church. Love can mean so many different things. Some people here might remember the free love movement of the 1960’s. Was that about love or about breaking down moral standards of behaviour?
The church in Corinth had wandered from Christian standards. There were factions, the misuse of Christian liberty and an abuse of spiritual gifts. Paul had been correcting the Corinthians, but then decides to offer a positive model of how the church should exist, which was quite a contrast to their model.
Have you heard that the Greek language had more than one word for love? There was eros, which was the love of deep desire and sensuous longing. You won’t find this word in the Bible, but in The Song of Solomon we read of erotic love. The word storge is the love that exists between members of a family. Again, this is not found in the New Testament, but the opposite astorge is in Romans and elsewhere. The two forms of love that we are familiar with from the scriptures is philia and agape. Philia is brotherly love or the deep love of friendship. An example is “love one another with mutual affection” Ro 12.10 Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the love expressed towards us through Jesus. It implies loving when there is nothing worthy to evoke love. This is the word Paul used in chapter 13 of his first letter.
So, when we think of love as romantic and that 1 Corinthians 13 is appropriate for weddings please note that the original intention was referring to a very different love.
The final verse is “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” And Margie likes to remind me that in heaven only love will exist, because the other two will have been fulfilled.
Last week in my sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12.1-11, which focussed on spiritual gifts, I referred to a study I had heard the day before, whilst at SUTS, based on Ephesians 4.1-24. This was easily done as both passages refer to gifts from God for ministry in his church.
These studies and the passage we have today from 1 Corinthians 12.12-31 stress oneness in the church despite the various gifts and the concerns of individual members. Christians will disagree on many things, but mature Christians will work to maintain bonds of peace.
As individual Christians we often ponder the best way forward for the church. Done in isolation this is dangerous. At SUTS Wei-Han Kuan recalled his days at college and the thoughts he had, “If I were writing the Bible …” He would then give thought to the issues he considered most important. We face the danger of our hearts being drawn to our own pet issues. Yet, of course, we have fallen hearts and so at times we react negatively to the scriptures or wish to change the place of emphasis.
The passages in the Bible that refer to spiritual gifts speak of the individual’s role in building up the congregation. Using our gifts makes it possible for others to do the same with their gifts, which are different to ours.
And we were asked how well we used our gifts. Four questions were put to us:
To keep everything in focus we need to go a little beyond Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. Chapter 5 of Ephesians commences with stress on love. What do we read about in 1 Corinthians 13?
Bless you as you give thought to your gifts.
In my morning readings this week I had the chance again to read through Daniel 3. As I did so I was reminded of how three words from the text had been used during World War 2 and it seemed
appropriate to tell the story again as we celebrate Remembrance Day.
As the allied troops faced annihilation at Dunkirk in 1940 a message was dispatched to Whitehall. It was simply this, “But if not.”
These were the words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar with death in the fiery furnace.
In the NRSV we read “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” Dan 3.17-18
“But if not.” What a poignant phrase. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were resolved to obey God, whether or not he chose to save them. They knew he wasn’t obliged to help them.
“But if not.” These words were instantly recognizable to the people who were accustomed to hearing the scriptures read in church. They knew the story told in the book of Daniel. The message in those three little words was clear: The situation was desperate. The allied forces were trapped. It would take a miracle to save them, but they were determined not to give in. One simple three-word phrase
communicated all that.
Boat-owners heard about the cry for help, and they answered. They answered with merchant marine boats, with pleasure cruisers, and even with small fishing boats. By a miracle, they evacuated more than 338,000 soldiers and took them to safety.
This is a great story that has a happy ending (for many) because people of the day were familiar with the scriptures. What would the plight of those soldiers be if the same message was sent today?
As Christians we know that the cross is central to our faith and an understanding that Jesus was the sacrificial one who was executed for the benefit of all. It is his death that gives us confidence to approach God and seek forgiveness from him – all in the name of Jesus.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday saw Jewish people observe Yom Kippur, a 25-hour period of prayer and fasting, which I am told is the holiest day of the year for them. In English it is the Day of Atonement. To gain atonement Jews must pray, repent of their sins and give to charity.
This isn’t so different to the undertaking of Christians who seek forgiveness from God. We don’t have to wait for a special day in the year, because we know that we can approach God at any time and confess our sins and seek his forgiveness. And, of course, we do all this in the name of Jesus. To gain forgiveness Christians are not required to give to charity, but as we have seen by reading through the Letter of James, our response to God’s grace in Jesus will require a changed life, which might well involve giving to charity.
In western Christian theology, atonement describes how human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ's sacrificial suffering and death. Atonement refers to the forgiving or pardoning of sin in general and original sin in particular through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, enabling the reconciliation between God and his creation, which includes us.
Guilt and its partner, shame, can paralyse us. You may have experienced it. Yet Christian people have a way to minimise guilt by turning to God and seeking his forgiveness. This all contributes to a healthy life for us – which is exactly what God wants for us.