Tuesday, November 8, 2016

4 men and 4 women tell the story of Jesus

Text of the week:  But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ Acts 9:15-16

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time. It’s a day to receive the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes and to celebrate Street Pastors in our town. It continues to be a special year for us as a church family as we have been reading the Bible together with the help of Fresh from the Word, the International Bible Reading Association. Our Sunday service themes have tied in with the daily Bible reading plan that’s still available in the porch and the more detailed Bible Study notes that many people have been using. Now’s the time to be ordering the 2017 edition of Fresh from the Word. It would be great if we could take forward into the New Year that sense of reading the Bible as a church family together. Have a word with Rachel Jacques or sign up on the list that will be circulating at church. This week we on some of those great Biblical saints: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Paul. Great witnesses to Jesus. “But,” in the words of Vron Smith, this week’s conversation partner in Fresh from the Word, “to know about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. Jesus makes an invitation to each person, an invitation to an ongoing, unfolding, unique relationship that will be like no one else’s. Our choice is to encounter the living Christ, or just to read about him.”  we will be thinking of Street Pastors locally and Operation Christmas Child internationally.

In our service last week we looked at the way Elijah, one of the first of the great prophets, “passed the mantle” on to Elisha, who passed the mantle on to Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Habakkuk and all the other great prophets. We looked at the way after a period when the voice of the prophets was silent, John the Baptist “ook up the mantle” of the prophets and passed it on to Jesus who passed it on to the twelve, to the seventy-two and through the ages to us. This week we are going to look at some of the first people who first took up the mantle from Jesus. So for the second part of the service I need 8 voices – four men and four women.  As we look at Jesus through their eyes those words on the green sheet from Vron Smith is very much at the heart of our service today. “To know about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. Jesus makes an invitation to each person, an invitation to an ongoing, unfolding, unique relationship that will be like no one else’s. Our choice is to encounter the living Christ, not just read about him.”

Welcome and Call to Worship
494 Glorious things of you are spoken
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Hebrews 1:1-3

In the past, God spoke to our ancestors
many times and in many ways through the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.

He is the one through whom God created the universe,
the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end. 

He reflects the brightness of God's glory
and is the exact likeness of God's own being,
sustaining the universe with his powerful word.

After achieving forgiveness for human sins,
he sat down in heaven at the right-hand side of God,
the Supreme Power.

Real lives … real people. The Bible is so much more than words on the page. They are the words of real people who lived real lives and had a real experience of God. And that’s what they wanted to pass on.

There was something very special about Jesus – the way he spoke, what he did, the manner of his death and then that remarkable something that happened on the third day when real people who lived real lives met with him once again and knew that not even death itself could have the last word. His resurrection victory was one they too shared in.

All he ever was, all he ever did, was good news and that was the good news they wanted to pass on.

It’s a strong tradition that goes back to the early days of the church and one that there’s a lot of evidence for.

Down to earth, to the point, John Mark had been a youngster among the followers of Jesus that night Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The soldiers grabbed him by he wriggle free from what he was wearing and ran naked into the night. His family home in Jerusalem became something of a base for the church in the very early days. He would never forget the night they had been praying together for Peter who had been arrested and was facing his execution when he turned up, hammering at the door. He got to know Peter more and more over the years: it was Peter’s reminiscences of Jesus that formed the backbone of his telling of the Good news of Jesus. They say, Mark’s gospel was the first to be written.

Then there was Matthew – he’ll forever be associated with the Gospel that bears his name. It’s a measure of Jesus’ passion for people that he ever became a follower at all. He had been trapped in the system the Romans had for getting as much money as possible out of local people. The collection of taxes had been contracted out – and the publican who won the contract, contracted it out again. At each turn someone had to take a cut – and Matthew was the guy who had to bear the anger of the local people as he did his best to get money out of them. Though he came from a highly respected family and was known as Levi, no one had any time for him … no one, except Jesus. Jesus it was who called him, him of all people. And more than that Jesus had actually partied with him and the other ‘publicani’.

There was one disciple more than any others that Jesus had a special love for – maybe he later came to speak of himself as ‘the much loved disciple’. His name was John – what had caught his imagination about Jesus was the richness and the thought provoking nature of his teaching. That’s what he wanted to get down in writing.

And then there was one more. A Doctor by profession he wasn’t’ Jewish and didn’t know much about the country around Jerusalem or Galilee. But he had met with those who had meet with Jesus and as he heard about this Jesus he felt he had met him for himself. When he met up with Paul he joined him on his travels. He wanted to find out more about all that Jesus taught and all that he did and the circumstances around his death and resurrection. He interviewed people who had themselves been there, he read what other people like Mark had written down, he came across a set of the sayings of Jesus. What fascinated him was the impact this Jesus had on all he met even after his death and resurrection. So, not content with telling the story of Jesus he also put together an account of all that the first followers of Jesus did and all that they taught.

Four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Just an interesting story.

Or an insight into one whose presence is real as we meet together in his name? Read the story. Meet the risen Jesus … and be changed!

We’re going to be receiving the Operation Christmas Shoe boxes now. It was interesting listening to the video we played as we launched the appeal this year. It spoke of the way the shoe boxes are used by Christians working in all sorts of different parts of the world as a way of giving a present and telling the story of Jesus too.

A Hy-Spirit Song

Activities for all over 3

Meet with Jesus and there’s a whole new way of seeing things, a whole new way of doing things, a whole new way of living.

Maybe it was because he was so very close to Peter but Mark more than anyone else is quite open about the way Peter didn’t get it … and needed to have a whole new way of seeing thngs. There’s a remarkable moment almost exactly in the middle of Mark’s Gospel when Jesus wants to find out whether people are getting the message – you can imagine Peter recalling the moment and Mark later passing on his recollection …

Mark:  he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 

They had got it – they could see the way He had taken up the mantle passed on from Elijah through the prophets to John the Baptist – but there was more to it than that Peter recalled the question he felt Jesus had put to him

Mark:   ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Peter really did feel that Jesus was asking that question of him. He knew exactly … or at least he thought he did. This was Peter’s answer as Mark recalled him saying …

 ‘You are the Messiah.’

You might have expected that Jesus would be thrilled at such a response. But Mark recalled a different atmosphere in the air.

 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Curious … why Jesus should ask them not to say anything about it? The problem lay in the way Peter and for that matter the others saw things. They saw things in human terms. A Messiah, one anointed by God must come in a blaze of glory and put right everything that’s wrong. Such a one must triumph over all the powers that be.

Peter was looking at things in very human terms.  He realised it later. But at that time he didn’t get it when Jesus went on to talk about his suffering and his death and what lay beyond …

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. 

Peter felt embarrassed at what happened next. But he could see it was a lesson he need to learn. He saw things in human terms. Faced with the prospect of his Messiah being rejected and going to his death Peter stepped in …

And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him.
That’s when Jesus turned on Peter …

he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

That’s the first challenge reading the Gospels. It’s a very human expectation of God and of religious faith that God will step in and make everything right, that God will overcome all evil.  But that’s a very human way of looking at things. What’s needed is a very different way of looking at things – the way that Jesus mapped out. For God is there in the suffering, when all goes wrong and sticks with us.

As in our mind’s eye we meet with Mark and through Mark with Peter we get a remarkable insight into what it’s like to meet with Jesus.

Meet with Jesus and there’s a whole new way of seeing things, a whole new way of doing things, a whole new way of living.

Matthew was drawn to Mark’s gospel but he could draw on other experiences of Jesus and it’s in his gospel that he brings together the teaching of Jesus that gives us a whole new way of doing things. Nowhere is that more powerfully seen than in the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for justice, for they wikll be filled.
Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.

Chapter 5 is all about loving your neighour.
Chapter 6 is all about loving God and the importance of prayer
And Chapter 7 verse 12 reduces it all to a single soundbite.

‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you;
for this is the law and the prophets.

And the challenge not just to hear the words of Jesus but to act on them.

‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 

Luke was also drawn to Mark’s gospel as he investigated everything from the first very carefully and wrote an orderly account of evertything to do with Jesus/ He hadn’t met with Jesus, but he met with people who had and he read accounts of Jesus.

It gave him too a whole new way of seeing things and a whole new way of doing things too – one of the special insights he had was that God was no respecter of persons, that God treated all equally: enter into conversation with Luke and you will discover a way of seeing things, a way of doing things that breaks barriers down and builds bridges up – nowhere is that better seen than in the parable of the Good Samaritan and those final words of Jesus – Go and do likewise.

Three real men living real lives who meet with the real Jesus and see things differently and do things differently.

Luke notices just how much Jesus engaged with women and hear their voices. It’s in his Gospel we meet with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

It is as she anticipates meeting with Jesus that she sees things in a different way and does things in a different way too.

Luke 1:46-55

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.

So often women in those days, too often women in our day, were disempowered. Mary was empowered as a woman by the majesty and power of God.

God welcomes and accepts all.

His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 

 But then Mary has a whole new way of seeing God, a whole new way of doing things. Religion so often had reinforced the powerful and the mighty at the expense of everyone else. But the God Mary encountered as she looked forward to the coming of Christ was the God who turned the accepted order of things upside down, turned it on its head.

He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

This is powerful stuff – stuff to make us sit up and take notice, stuff to invite us to do things differently.

He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Our singing invites us to enter into the story – can we make Mary’s words our own and sing the magnificat?

42 Tell out my soul

A whole new way of seeing things, a whole new way of doing things … it’s as we meet with John that we encounter a whole new way of living.

It is the presence of Jesus as he comes alongside real people, struggling with real lives that transforms those lives in the bleakest of moments.

Martha, Mary and Magdalene each face loss that they find overwhelming. They discover in Jesus one who empowers them to move through their loss.

It was when their brother, Lazarus was ill, that Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus, 

‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 

But Jesus didn’t come immediately. He stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

In the end Jesus arrived to find that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 

Martha and Mary were both overwhelmed by their loss … but they reacted in quite different ways.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 

Martha said to Jesus,

‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

There’s a bargaining that sets in at this point. If only … if only … you had come things would have been different.

But with the bargaining goes also a quiet confidence in Jesus.

 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 

Then comes the most wonderful conversation of dying, death and the resurrection that is beyond.

Jesus said to her,

Your brother will rise again.’ 

Martha said to him,
‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 

Jesus said to her,

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Then one can almost imagine Jesus looking Martha in the eye when he says to her …

 Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

It is that response of faith that Martha gives that is an inspiration in so many ways.

Martha then goes back to their home and she called her sister Mary, and told her privately,

‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 

And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she reacted in exactly the same way as Martha had done: she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 

It is at this point, however, that things go in a different direction. Mary is the quiet, reflective one. And at this point she is not up for discussion. She is not in a place where she can share. Instead she breaks down in tears.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 

It’s then that we read.

Jesus wept.

Words when words are appropriate.

Jesus is simply alongside when words fail. But he is there. And as the story of Lazarus unfolds resurrection is real.

Resurrection changes things.

The third woman whose story John tells is Mary Magdalene who when she returns to the tomb of Jesus after the Sabbath also breaks down in tears and weeps.

 It is when Jesus, the one she mistakes for a gardener, utters her name that she realises he is risen, he is risen indeed.

Three women and one man.

The man is John.

John tells of those who saw with their own eyes and had faith. He writes for us who have not seen with our own eyes so that we too may find that faith.

John it is who records the words of Jesus to Thomas …

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

A couple of weeks ago as we were going on holiday, Richard Sharpe sent me a hymn he felt would be good to sing. It was written to mark the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster.

What do you say? What can you do? In response to the utter horror of such meaningless loss of life?

There’s nothing to do. The local Baptist minister, Kenneth Hayes, lost a son in the tragedy he ministered, and campaigned and simply stayed with his community for many years afterwards … and on film is recorded as turning to those final words of Romans 8 for the inspiration that enabled him through Jesus to see things differently, do things differently and live differently.

The end of chapter 8 of Romans is a great summary of faith - What can separate us from the love of God - It’s a passage I always use when there’s a personal tragedy or disaster and that’s a message we always try to emphasise - I am certain that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither death nor life, neither angels or other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future…

As far as we’re concerned now, we’ve still got two boys. We’re only separated for a time. One day we’re going to meet. The parting and the loneliness and being without him is terrible, but it’s not for ever.

It’s really worth getting to know about Jesus but that’s not enough.

Going back to those words of Vron Smith.

“To know about Jesus is not the same as knowing Jesus. Jesus makes an invitation to each person, an invitation to an ongoing, unfolding, unique relationship that will be like no one else’s. Our choice is to encounter the living Christ, not just read about him.”

It is in that encounter with the living Christ that we will find a whole new way of looking at the world, a whole new way of doing things and a whole new way of living, a whole new life.

God who knows our darkest moments (website only)
A hymn for Aberfan

On 21 October 1966, a coal waste tip overlooking the village of Aberfan, destabilised by rain water, slid and crashed down into Pantglas Junior School, destroying most of the school as well as a farm and twenty houses. The avalanche killed 144 people including 116 children. It’s the worst disaster involving children in modern British history.

The Revd Gareth Hill’s hymn, “God who knows our darkest moments”, was written for personal reasons. Gareth’s father-in-law, the Revd Irving Penberthy, now a supernumerary minister in Okehampton, Devon, is the only surviving church leader from those who were ministering in Aberfan at the time of the tragedy. See below for more information.

Aberfan Cemetery - two rows of white arches mark the graves of children killed in the 1966 colliery tip disaster © Stephen McKay (Licensed under Creative Commons)

God who knows our darkest moments
meets us in our brokenness:
walks beside us as a whisper,
holds our pain in his caress.
God, who leads through shadowed valleys,
where death’s bleakness dims our sight,
speaks a peace beyond our knowing,
floods our anguish with his light.

Far beyond our grief’s horizon,
as Creation holds its breath:
Love Divine, revealed in Jesus,
tears apart the chains of death.
Servant son and humble healer,
by your cross and life laid down
you have carried all our suff’ring
and you wear the victor’s crown.

Lift us up, now, risen Saviour
to the place where mercy plays,
where our broken hopes and heartache
find their healing in your gaze.
This is love, that God has saved us!
This is love, that Christ has died!
We rejoice that love has conquered
and has drawn us to your side.

Words: © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

Hymn: God who knows our darkest moments
And us – celebrating Street Pastors
MTS 3 Brother, Sister
Prayers of Concern
Hymn: In Christ alone

Words of Blessing

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