Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The dignity of the ministry

It is important to stress the dignity of all lawful vocations, but nevertheless, in an age when gospel ministry is often in low repute, this illustration, which I heard from Andy Young at the Banner Conference is a moving one:

That great missionary to India, William Carey, became deeply concerned about the attitude of his son Felix. The young man, a professing Christian, had promised to become a missionary. But he broke his vow when he was appointed ambassador to Burma. Carey requested prayer for him: “Pray for Felix. He has degenerated into an ambassador of the British government when he should be serving the King of kings.”

We do not minister alone

Andy Young used a version of this illustration about Ignacy Paderewski at the Banner Conference:

When the house lights dimmed and the concert
Was about to begin, the mother returned to
Her seat and discovered that the child was missing
Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights
Focused on the impressive Steinway on stage.
In horror, the mother saw her little
Boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out
"Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star."
At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and
Whispered in the boy's ear,
"Don't quit.""Keep playing."
Then, leaning over, Paderewski reached
Down with his left hand and began filling
In a bass part. Soon his right arm reached
Around to the other side of the child,
And he added a running obbligato.
Together, the old master and the young novice
Transformed what could have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience.
The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the great master played.
Only the classic,
" Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Perhaps that's the way it is with God.
What we can accomplish on
Our own is hardly noteworthy.
We try our best, but the results aren't always
Graceful flowing music. However, with the
Hand of the Master, our life's
Work can truly be beautiful.

The next time you set out to accomplish great feats,
Listen carefully. You may hear the voice of the
Master, whispering in your ear,
"Don't quit." "Keep playing."
May you feel His arms around you and
Know that His hands are there, helping you
Turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.
Remember, God doesn't seem to
Call the equipped, rather, He equips the 'called.'
Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the things you acquire. So touch someone by passing this little message along.
May God bless you and be with you always!
And

Remember ,
"Don't quit."
"Keep playing

Marks of the Master's Ministry


Some jottings from a talk by Andy Young at the 2017 Banner UK Minister's Conference what was live-streamed on the interweb:

Luke 4:14-30



A programmatic, paradigmatic passage about Jesus’ ministry placed at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry



5 marks of Christ’s ministry:



(1) It was ordinary, it used the ordinary means of grace, the reading and preaching of the Word of God in the congregation of God’s people – v16-17 – in his home town, in the synagogue as was his custom



The humility of Christ



The Word of God reading the Written Word of God and proclaiming it, explaining and applying the Word of God



1 Timothy 4:13



God had only one Son and he made him a preacher



The people there despise the ordinary means of grace, as we might be tempted to be

They miss the extraordinary in the ordinary



(2) It was a Spirit-filled might



3:22; 4:1; 4:14; 4:18



Jesus the Spirit anointed Priest, Prophet and King



If Christ depended on the Spirit in his ministry, how much more should we



(3) The Christ-centred message of Christ’s own preaching – v18 – Christ preached himself – he is the message he came to proclaim



(4) The eschatological magnitude – the coming of Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures v21 – the promised future hope of Israel (of Isaiah 61) has come, the kingdom has come, the new era of fulfilment has come, the eschatological fulfilment is inaugurated in Christ



Luke 19:9; 23:43



(5) The gracious mission



What he says he will do (v18) – to the needy, enslaved, helpless



A gospel of grace to those in need



Isaiah 61:2b, “the day of the vengeance of our God” omitted here – Jesus stops short of mentioning the wrath of God – his first coming was to bring mercy not the final punishment of sinners



V19 – The Lord’s Favour – Lev 25 Year of Jubilee



Vv25-27 – God’s universal grace, a hint of the mission to the gentiles



Behold your God, your wonderful Saviour Christ!



Emulate Christ, make your ministry Christ-like



Be encouraged because Christ continues to ministry through his servants

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Example of the Letter to the Hebrews for ministry

I was able to listen to most of the free live stream of David Johnston's 2017 Banner UK Minister's Conference talk entitled Hebrews: A Paradigm for Preaching, today. He argues that:

Hebrews is a model for us for preaching in that it is:

 (1) Grounded in Scripture

 (2) Centred on Christ

 (3) Applied to life

 (4) Empowered by the Spirit (especially chapters 3-4 e.g. 3:7; 4:12)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Feeling my lack of Hebrew




Trying to do some work on Psalm 6 today, I have really felt my lack of Hebrew. Or at least the desire for a consistent word for word translation.



As Michael Wilcock points out in The Bible Speaks Today Commentary, the NIV manages to translate bahel, “suffer” (of bones and soul and enemies 3x in vv2, 3, 10) in 3 different ways.



And of course if one’s translation doesn’t go in for word for wordness, maybe when there are repeated words they don’t reflect the original. Arrgh!



We are presumably meant to pay attention to the repetition and patterning that John Goldingay points out, and to do that we linguistic slow-learners need a translation that brings it out:



“The double “shaming” [of v10] follows on the double “listening” [of vv8-9], and their [the enemies’] great shaking [v10] corresponds to the suppliant’s double shaking [vv2-3]. The “turn” of v10 corresponds to the “turn” of v4, and whereas v3 asked “How long?” now the suppliant knows the shaming will come “instantly.”” (Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, p141)


A prayer at the beginning of a clergy sabbatical

Some of this is personal to me and it just stops rather than having a polished ending, but just in case any of this is helpful to others:




Father God,

Thank you for the space and opportunity for this sabbatical.



Thank you for all those who have made it possible,

For those who have assisted with arrangements and advice,

And for financial provision.



Thank you for all those who are helping with my normal responsibilities during this time.



Thank you for all your goodness and kindness to me,

For innumerable blessings which I do not deserve.

Make me more conscious of the grace I have received, I pray.

Give me a humility which comes from knowing that all I have or am is pure gift.

Give me an increasing desire for your glory and a lack of concern for my own perceived status.  



Forgive me for times when I have been forgetful of you and ungrateful for your mercies.

For times when I have sinned against others.

Forgive my grumpiness and impatience and lack of faith.

And the sins I am barely aware of or would rather not name, even before you.



Help me to genuinely step aside from the responsibilities which would distract from the best use of this time.

Help me to trust you with those things I will not be doing and to leave them to others.

Bless and prosper those ministries in my absence.

May I rejoice at the end of my sabbatical to hear of the good things that have happened without me, and the way in which you have used others.

Deliver me from all hints of a Messiah-complex and from wanting to think of myself as indispensable.



Help me not to treat this “time off” as time off from being a Christian!



Help me to be a blessing to those whom I meet during this time.



Help me to make the most of this time, without being frenetic or overly precious about it.



Give me wisdom about my priorities and direct my energies.



Teach me to trust your good providence if all does not go to my plans.



Help me to prioritise my walk with you and find good ways of getting to know you better.

Open my eyes afresh to your greatness and love,

To the wonder of your character

and the glories of your purposes in the gospel.



Bless my times of prayer, Bible reading and fellowship with others.

May I rejoice in knowing Christ and in being yours.



May I love you more and know you better at the end of this time.



Help me to know myself.

Show me my sin.

Cause me to hate it and to strive to put it to death, depending on your Spirit.

Give me a desire to be more like Christ and help me to see how I can grow in Him.

Make me conscious of ways in which I have fallen in to sinful or unhelpful patterns or ways in which I compromise or acquiesce with godlessness.

Thank you for your work in my life and for the gifts you have given me.

Help me to use them effectively in your service and for the good of others.



Bless my family, especially when I am away.

Help us to love one another and to love you more.

We pray that we might serve you effectively together as a team.

Help us to be kind and caring to one another.

May we rejoice and mourn together and carry one another’s burdens.

Make our home a place of peace, joy, forgiveness and grace.

Help us to practice hospitality and to be a blessing to others.

Help me to be a godly husband and father, to encourage and nurture.

Forgive my selfishness and impatience.

May I lead my family by serving them wisely not pleasing myself.



Please help me review and plan.

Give me good ideas for future life and ministry.



Help me increasingly to form good habits that will help to sustain a life-time of ministry.



Help me to wisely take care of myself without being lazy or self-indulgent, nor imaging myself to be super-human or invulnerable.

Teach me your power which is available in weakness.



May my sabbatical be of use to me and my family, to those to whom I minister and to the wider church.



In particular, may my study and writing be faithful to your word and beneficial.

I pray that there may be a specific tangible outcome from this time, such as a publishable journal article which will help others.

Deliver me from ego in this, but graciously use me in your service.



I pray that I might be rested and refreshed by this sabbatical, not worn out by trying to do too much, or by misguided use of the time.



Help me to make a good return to my normal ministries with a renewed vision and a sense of how to go forward.



I pray for those whom I serve that it might be good to have me back!

Sabbatical Day 1

So it is the first day of my sabbatical.

I hope to be banging on the doors of the gym at their not terribly early opening time.

After that I'm off to Penhurst Retreat Centre for a Quiet Day on my own (though there is a group also using the place for a silent retreat so I hope I get there early enough to secure a comfortable armchair). I will of course be taking more books than is reasonable and I might throw in my walking boots. In a radical commitment to the spirit of the thing, I am even thinking of having 7 hours or so without the interweb. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Psalm of the Week

My sabbatical officially starts tomorrow. (Woo hoo etc.!)

One of the aims is to prioritise my walk with the Lord and therefore to give some extra time to personal Bible reading, prayer and reflection on the Scriptures.

I am thinking of having a Psalm of the Week which I read, study, pray, think about, listen to and may be even sing.

I'd love to know the church's divinely authored prayer and hymn book better and in particular to have more of the Psalms at my finger tips and be able to think of some appropriate Psalms that would suit particular circumstances or needs as they arise.

I plan to start with Psalm 6 as I have preached on the first five psalms in living memory.

Tremper Longman III encourages us about the importance and usefulness of the Psalms:

"It has long been observed that the book of Psalms is a "microcosm" of the message of the Old Testament. Athanasius, the fourth-century theologian, called the Psalms "an epitome of the whole Scriptures." Basil, bishop of Caesarea in the same period, regarded the Psalms as a "compendium of all theology." Martin Luther said the book is "a little Bible, and a summary of the Old Testament."

Series Preface to John Goldingay, Psalms, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, volume 1, p9 (Baker Academic, 2006)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Freedom Movement: 500 Years of Reformation by Michael Reeves

I enjoyed reading this short book this morning.

It has an attractively produced kind of magaziney feel with illustrations and break out bits of text and although it raises the most profound issues (how can I be happy and right with God) it is an easy read.

It's not in-you-face evangelistic (no prayer to pray at the end!) but a believer or an unbeliever could read it with profit.

It covers in brief Luther's monastic life and theological breakthrough and something of his home life (his bowling alley and private brewery and the loss of his daughters) and there's something on Tyndale and the Bible, Bunyan, the Oxford Martyrs and the impact of the Reformation especially on Wilberforce and Shaftsbury.

I have always thought of Bunyan as a tinker and I was interested to see that Reeves calls him "a metalworker by trade... [who] travelled from village to village with a 60lb anvil and hefty toolkit on his back: it became a model for the great burden of guilt his Pilgrim carries on his back." (p16)

Recommended.

We are planning to give out free copies when we host A Monk's Tale.

10Publishing, 2017, 37pp. Available from 10ofThose from £4.99 to £1 depending on number ordered.

Eyes Opened


The disciples on the Emmaus Road have their eyes opened when they receive the Communion bread and they see Jesus (Luke 24:30-31).

Adam and Eve had their eyes opened when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they saw their own nakedness and hid from the LORD (Genesis 3:7-8).

Peter Leithart includes this in his Theopolis meditation for Easter Monday 2017:



At twilight on the first Easter, two disciples of Jesus were traveling on the road toward the town of Emmaus. They had fled Jerusalem to escape the Jews. They talked excitedly about the strange things they had heard and seen.



Suddenly, Jesus joined them and asked what they were talking about.



They told Jesus His life story – how He was a prophet mighty in deed and in the sight of God, a new Moses; how they hoped He would redeem Israel; how He had been seized and executed. They even told Jesus the story of the resurrection.


They knew the entire gospel story, but they were still too dejected and frightened for mission. They knew the whole gospel story, but they didn’t recognize Jesus.



Jesus started telling Bible stories, from Genesis, through all the Prophets and Psalms. All the way through, He taught them that everything in the Scriptures was about His suffering and glory.



The word wasn’t enough. Jesus’ presence wasn’t enough. They recognized Jesus only when He broke bread. Then, like Adam and Eve, their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus.



Then everything changed. They were fleeing Jerusalem, but now they return. They had left the other disciples, but now they rejoin them. They were perplexed about the resurrection, but now they become witnesses.



If we want to join the mission of the Risen Jesus, we need the whole Bible burning in our hearts. And we need the broken bread, the tree of life that opens our eyes to see that the risen Jesus is with us.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter News

From a friend on Facebook. A nice little outline that one might plagiarise in a future year:

Matthew 28:6
Easter news is
1.surprising "he is not here"
2.amazing "he is risen"
3.meaningful "just as he said"...
4.credible "come see"

Saturday, April 15, 2017

John 20:1-18


Mary Magdalene’s mistakes:



She wasn’t expecting the resurrection (vv1-2)



She thinks there are reasons for tears (v11, v13, v15)



She can’t initially recognise Jesus (v14, v15)



She is tempted to try to hold on to Jesus (v17)



Mary Magdalene’s realisation (v18)

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Good Friday Hour at the Cross Service with Meditations on John 17, 19


Order of Service



Welcome to our Hour at the Cross Service.

Yesterday, at our Maundy Thursday Communion, we thought about Jesus’ final words to his disciples before his death, as they are recorded in John chapters 13-16.

Today we’re going to think about the passage which follows, Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John chapter 17, and then John’s account of Jesus’ death, from chapter 19.

You might like to have the passage open in front of you.

In the pew Bibles, it’s page 1085. John 17.

There’ll be some periods of silence during the service in which we can think and pray.

You might find the pew Bibles and the hymn books useful resources for those times.



Hymn 1:



The Collect for Good Friday (T&S p307)



A Puritan Prayer reflecting on the cross from a collection known as The Valley of Vision

Love’s Lustres at Calvary (p42)



Reading: (1) John 17:1-5



In this chapter, we stand on holy ground.

We are privileged to hear the Son address the Father.

There is no closer relationship in the universe than the eternal bond between Father and Son.

Both are fully God.

They are perfectly united in love and will.

It is their relationship with one another that sets them apart from one another.

The Son is all that the Father is, except Father.

The Father is all that the Son is, except Son.

Here is a fathomless mystery.

And we are privileged to listen in as the Son made man addresses his Father.



Here is another longer, fuller Lord’s Prayer which is more fully and particularly the Son’s, rather than his model the church’s praying.  

And this conversation between Son and Father, as the Son faces his death is appropriate, because Jesus has come to draw us into the family.

If we believe, John has told us, we can become children of God, born of God, given access to the Father and the full rights as heirs.

In Christ, we too can come freely and confidently into our heavenly Father’s presence and speak to him about anything which is on our hearts.  



The Son uniquely and eternally lived in the glory of the Godhead.

As the Word, he as with God in the beginning – even towards the Father, oriented to him.

From all eternity, he was at the Father’s side, in his bosom.

Before the world began the Father and the Son enjoyed an unclouded glory together in the Holy Spirit.



The Son has glorified the Father and the Father glorifies the Son – each seeks the glory of the other.

The Godhead is a community of mutual love and glory and exaltation.

The self-giving love which motivates the cross, is in fact the very heart of the life of the Triune God who is Love.



Jesus’ saving work means that we too can know the glory of God.

The Apostles saw the glory of God in Jesus and put their faith in him.

And the prospect for all Christians is glory, when at last we will see Christ face to face in glory.



Jesus’ mission is the movement from glory to glory via the cross – from heaven to earth and back again.

The Son came from the Father and is returning to the Father: from glory to glory.

But the cross too will be the strange and hidden glorification of the Son as he is lifted up, exalted from the earth.

From glory to glory via glory, displaying glory, for our glorification, to the glory of God.



Jesus’ earthly ministry is nearly complete.

He has perfectly and sinlessly glorified his Father.

He has faithfully run his race.

Only the home straight lies before him, but it is the most gruelling leg of the journey, a journey which involves being lifted on high, but which we could also call going down into the depths.

Jesus will go into exile, into darkness, cut off from the blessing of God’s love, baring the curse of God’s wrath.



The Son has been given authority over all people that he might give eternal life to those whom God has given him.

Jesus will perish on the cross that all who believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.

This eternal life is to know God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death restores our friendship with God.

The great barrier of sin is removed for all who will trust in Jesus.

So this eternal life – knowing God - begins the moment we believe.

Yes, it goes on beyond the grave, but it is not merely the continuation of life:

It is not just quantity of life but a new quality of life:

The spiritually dead are made alive – alive to God, enlivened, vivified by his powerful Spirit.

Believers are born again into a new life of friendship with God, joining the glorious fellowship of God the Father and God the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, made members of the very family of God.



It was to this glorious eternal life that the Lord Jesus looked as he faced the cross.



Hymn 2:



Reading: (2) John 17:6-19



God’s people are those whom the Father has entrusted to the Son out of the world.

They obey the Father’s words and accept Jesus’ words.

They know and believe that Jesus was sent by the Father.

Handed over by the Father to the Son and kept in their double-hold, believers couldn’t be more secure.



But they live in the world – not yet in heaven or in the renewed creation.

What Jesus calls “the world” in this passage is not so much the created world, which we know God made and which is good, and which he will redeem, but the world as opposed to the church, the fallen world which is in rebellion against its Maker.

Jesus is soon to leave this world, but his disciples must remain in the kind of world that has crucified its Creator.

So Jesus prays for his disciples’ protection.



God sometimes doesn’t answer our prayers.

Sometimes our prayers are stupid or selfish or self-contradictory or faithless.

Sometimes they are not according to God’s will.

But Jesus only ever prayed perfect prayers.

So I take it we can be confident that the Father will answer this prayer of his Son.

The disciples will be protected by the Almighty power of God’s name.

That’s protected!

There is no more powerful power, no mightier name.



Not that God’s protection will insulate us from all suffering:

We follow a crucified Saviour, after all.

But the Son and the Father will infallibly keep all those for whom the precious blood of God is shed.

The world and the evil one may do their worst, but the Christian is ultimately safe.

They can torture and kill the body, but God is in the resurrection business.

Our lives, our souls, are safe in Jesus’ all-powerful nail-marked hands.  

The believer can have a joy even in the face of death which the world cannot give and which the world cannot take away.



Jesus’ disciples are to be in the world yet not of the world.

They are the salt of the earth which must not lose its saltiness.

The church is to be in the world, but the Christ rejecting world is not to infect the church.

The church is God’s agent for the transformation of the world and if she is to be any use to the world she must remain both open to the world and related to it, but also pure and distinctive from it.

The church is to be sanctified, set apart, made holy by God’s Word of truth that she might play her part in the sanctification, the transformation and conversion of the world.



Jesus sets himself apart to the death of the cross that his church might be set apart.

Jesus dies for an unholy people to make us holy.

By his blood, we are cleansed.

He finds us in our filthy rags, and makes us his beautiful bride, washed and radiant, without stain or winkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless.



As Jesus was sent into the world, so he sends his disciples to continue the transforming, sanctifying, glorifying, saving mission of Father and Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.



Hymn 3:



Reading (3): John 17:20-26



Jesus prayed for you and me as he went to the cross.

What an astonishing thought that is!

He had us in mind as he went to his death – that death which was for us.

He wants you and me to be with him in the glory of heaven.

That’s part of the reason that he came, the reason why he will die: for you, for me.



And Jesus prays that his church may be one as the Father and the Son are one.

There could be no closer nor more perfect unity.

There is one church.

That’s a spiritual reality.

One Lord, one body, one faith, one hope, one baptism.

The church is a seamless robe.

But we must admit it is a ragged and torn one too.

Jesus prays for the kind of church unity which the world can see and which proves Jesus mission of love.

We have a long way to go before this prayer is fully answered!

Let us pray that we might preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.

Let’s pray too for the greater visible unity of the church in the truth of Jesus’ word.



Jesus’ whole ministry has made the Father and his love known, but now as he goes to the cross he shows the full extent of his love.

It is incredible that in Christ, the Father has the same love for us which he has for his eternal, spotless, well-beloved Son.

That is a love to bask in, in which to glory.

We are sometimes far from lovely, but the Father sees us in the altogether lovely Son.

The Father loves us as he loves the Son with an infinite, boundless, delighted, almighty love – a love without beginning or end or limit, an everlasting, incomparable love – a love which is long and high and deep and wide beyond measure.



Music: Oh the deep, deep love – Sovereign Grace 30 – track no. 7



Reading (4): John 19:16b-37



Jesus dies as the King of the Jews, but the notice above the cross in Aramaic, Latin and Greek is perhaps a hint that Jesus is the king of all the nations.



He is king, of course, whether we like it or not – recognise it or not.



Though as he dies, it takes the eye of faith to see in this dying man the glory of the Maker.

On the cross, the creator is uncreated, undone.

The Resurrection and the Life expires and dies.

The fountain of life is poured out for us.

The spring of Living Water thirsts and is dried up.

And because he himself is parched, streams of life-giving water flow from his side.

Sinners plunged beneath the flood of his blood lose all their guilty stains.



All in fulfilment of the Scriptures.

Jesus is the righteous man of Psalm 34:19-20 who suffers unjustly.

Even though he dies, the Lord ultimately delivers Jesus and protects all his bones.

Like the Passover Lamb, none of his bones is broken.

At last “It is finished!”.

The saving work of Christ is completed.

The price for sin is fully paid.

Accomplished!

It is done!

All that is needful hath been.

He “made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”.



And that finished work creates a new family of many mothers and sons and brothers and sisters and fathers in the church.

Jesus’ death draws us even into the glory of the divine family of Father, Son and many children, or younger brothers, bound together by the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing more terrible or more glorious than the cross of Christ.

May it be our glory and our delight, our comfort, and hope and joy and peace. Amen.



Intercessions (T&S p316)



The Lord’s Prayer in its traditional form (?)



Hymn 4:



Concluding Prayer (T&S, p320)

A Maundy Thursday Sermon on The Farewell Discourses (John 13-16)


When we come again to these annual festivals in the church year, it’s always a challenge for the clergy to try to say something fresh – especially if I try to remember what I’ve said before, and wonder if you’ll remember it!

But Maundy Thursday offers an embarrassment of riches.



On this day, our Lord celebrated the Passover with his disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper at his Last Supper.

He washed his disciples’ feet.

He gave them the new commandment (the mandate from which the word Maundy comes) to love one another as he had loved them.

He taught his disciples and prepared them for his departure.

He prayed.

He agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He was betrayed and arrested.



This Easter I want to camp out in John’s Gospel.

Today I want to think about the so-called Farewell Discourse, which Jesus addressed to his disciples: his last words before the cross.

Jesus’ last sermon, we might call it.  

And tomorrow, in our Hour at the Cross, I want us to think about the prayer which Jesus prayed as he faced his death, from John chapter 17.



So today our focus is the end of John 13, through to the end of chapter 16.

It would probably take about 14 or 15 minutes to read out loud, and perhaps we should have just done that, on the assumption that Jesus is a much better preacher than the Rector!



Of course I won’t do justice to Jesus’ words in this brief sermon, so you might like to find half an hour this Easter to re-read these chapters on your own.



Quite likely Jesus had much more to say to his disciples and what we have in the Gospel is a selective inspired summary, rather than a word for word transcription.

Jesus probably spoke in Aramaic, of course, whereas the gospels are written in Greek.



We began our service with words from John 13 and I chose a reading from near the beginning and one from the end of Jesus’ sermon, and I just want to notice a few themes with you, and try to give a sense of the whole, with an eye both to the Easter events, and to our living today as disciples of the Lord Jesus in the light of Easter.



Certainly, later on the evening of Maundy Thursday, as Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane, we’ll see his great conflict and turmoil as he faces his coming death.

His humanity will be very evident as he is deeply distressed and troubled and he says, “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:37-38)

Jesus was in anguish and he prayed so earnestly that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:44).

He embraces his Father’s will that he goes to the cross rather than his natural desire that there might be some other way.

As Jesus prayed this tortured prayer of faithful commitment and rededication, the disciples fell asleep.



Here, as Jesus speaks to them, he is remarkably composed and in control.

He has it together!

He deliberately faces his coming death.

The disciples are bewildered and pretty clueless.

Although he has repeatedly spoken to them of the necessity of his coming death and its part in God’s plans, they seem baffled.

As the horror of the cross looms, it’s not Jesus’ disciples who comfort him, as we might expect, but Jesus who comforts them.

Here is a striking demonstration of Jesus’ self-less love.

Even now he is concerned for others.

He loved his disciples to the end – more than he loved his own life.  

Tomorrow he will die for them and tonight he ministers to them to prepare them for his departure.

This farewell discourse reminds us that Jesus goes to his death quite willingly and intentionally, for the sake of all those who will put their trust in him.

From the point of view of the purposes of God, Jesus’ death is no tragic mistake nor an unexpected failure.

It is the very climax of his ministry – his great hour, as John’s gospel has called it.

As Jesus looks to the cross, his time has come.  

As the Scriptures say, for the joy set before him, Jesus will endure the cross, scorning its shame.



According to John’s Gospel, contrary to appearances, Jesus’ death will be the great moment of his glory.

He will literally be lifted up on the cross, and that will be his exaltation:

In this deliberately terrible and shameful death, God’s awful purposes will shine most brightly.

Jesus’ crown will be a crown of thorns – his throne an instrument of execution.

Jesus will indeed be revealed as the servant king – the bleeding, dying God-Man.

Here manifest at the cross is the splendour of Christ’s love, the radiance of his victory, the brilliance of his humility, his shinning obedience, his glorious faithfulness, his spotless purity.



Jesus warns his disciples that where he is going they cannot now come.

Here their paths diverge for a while.

Jesus must face his death alone.

This is a cup, the cup of God’s wrath, which Jesus alone can drink.

For all their bravado, the disciples could not endure it for a moment.

He will drink it to the dregs so that instead they might share a cup of salvation and blessing.

He will drink the fruit of the vine with them again in the Kingdom of God.

  

Uniquely, Jesus is the sinless lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world.

He is the only and final sacrifice for sin.

There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin.

He will make full and perfect atonement.  

Jesus faced the cross in our place, so that we might not.

His path was a solitary one.  

Yet he does call us, in our own way, to suffer with him.

He calls us to go the way of the cross, not that we might Save The World, but that we might be made like our Saviour.

Jesus’ sufferings are unique and on our behalf, instead of us: he is our substitute.

But the sufferings of Jesus the Head overflow into his body the church.

As Paul will say, we share in those sufferings and even fill them up.

Jesus warns his disciples: if the world hated me, it will hate you.

As the Master was persecuted, so will the servants be.

For us too, the pattern is death to sin and self, and only then resurrection life.



Jesus will go ahead of his disciples and make a way for them to the Father, but only because he has first blazes the trail.

Only later will they be able to follow, when Jesus has opened a new and living way to the Father.

Jesus is the Way.



Jesus goes to prepare a place for all who will follow him.

Not that Jesus will rush ahead to heaven to get their rooms just so and fluff up the cushions or choose curtains in their favourite colours for their heavenly home.

No, by his going, by his death, Jesus prepares a place for them: he wins their entry into heaven.

He makes it possible for sinners like you and me to come into the presence of a holy God.



For Jesus’ disciples, the life of faith will change from this point on.

For the last three years, Jesus has been the centre of their world.

They have been with him full-time and it’s been an amazing journey.  

Soon Jesus will no longer be with them physically.

Now they will pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and Jesus will do even greater things through them.

They will depend on Jesus’ saving work for them and their prayers will be for the coming of his Kingdom.



It’s hard to imagine greater miracles than those which Jesus did when he was on earth.

What could these greater things be, walking further on water?

Crossing an ocean on foot?

Feeding 20 000 people with one loaf of bread?

Raising whole graveyards full of people?

The point, I think, is not that Jesus’ disciples will do more spectacular miracles than he did but that Jesus’ death will bring in the greater age of the Spirit.

Jesus ministry was confined to a small part of the middle east for 3 years.

But the disciples’ ministry will begin to take the gospel, in the power of the Spirit, to all the nations.

The Holy Spirit will be poured out in a new way, permanently filling all God’s people.
Jesus’ going will mean that the Spirit is sent.

His saving death is the essential pre-condition of Pentecost.

Down the centuries and around the world, the great good news of the gospel will ring out and countless millions will receive new resurrection life – a multitude from every people and tribe and nation, which no one can number.

God’s gift of spiritual life to the nations is really the greatest miracle of all – one that keeps on being performed even today.  

Judgement day will reveal that Jesus has done far greater works through his Spirit-empowered disciples than he ever did when he walked in Judea.



After Jesus goes his disciples are to go on living in loving obedience to him, sanctified by the Word of truth, and the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth.

They will be bereft of Jesus, but they won’t be left alone.

Just as Jesus had been alongside them, God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be alongside them, like a union rep at a tribunal or a defence solicitor at a trial.

The Spirit will be with us and on our side to help us.

We are not alone.

Till now Jesus has been the disciples Counsellor but from now on the Holy Spirit will be another Counsellor, almost another Jesus to them.

Or to put it differently, Jesus will be with them by his Spirit.

He will not leave his children as orphans but will come to them.

As our liturgy has it:

The Lord is Here.

His Spirit is with us.



It is for the disciples good that Jesus goes on his great Exodus, on his last and most terrible journey, and, despite their fears and their tears they are to be glad.

Their world will fall apart, but Jesus The Resurrection will put it back together again, transformed and renewed.

It will seem like Satan has triumphed, but their grief will turn to joy.

They need not fear.

The Spirit will give them new power and purpose as they become Jesus witnesses.



On resurrection day, the disciples will be like a mother who almost forgets the pain of the birth as she delights to hold her new-born child.

You might think that’s easy for me to say, but some women do deliberately have more than one child, don’t they, so there must be some truth in it!



As they live with the physical absence of Jesus, the key to their fruitfulness is simply the remain in Jesus.

They are united to him by faith in the Spirit.

Jesus is the Vine.

They are the branches.  

Their life and vitality depend entirely on him.



Jesus says he told his disciples all this in advance so they might believe.

As Jesus’ friends, they know his business, his plans.

And by his resurrection, Jesus was vindicated.

All his saving work was fulfilled and accomplished, just as he had said beforehand that it would be.

Jesus is the true prophet whose words have come true.

As Jesus sent his Spirit at Pentecost, kept his promise.



Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”

And I feel a bit like that too!

It would be the Spirit’s work to bring back to the disciples minds all that Jesus had taught them and to lead them into all truth.

The New Testament is the fruit of the Spirit’s work, and he speaks that word to us still today.



Jesus said to his disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.

In this world you will have trouble.

But take heart!

I have overcome the world!”



May we be heartened this Easter to live for the risen Lord Jesus in his troubled and troubling world.

May we know his peace as we rejoice that Jesus has overcome the world.

To him, with the Father and the Spirit, be all glory and honour and power and praise, now and for ever. Amen. 


Music for Good Friday

Facebook friends have suggested the following:

Bach St Matthew's Passion, especially the opening section

Hillsongs, Man of Sorrows - https://youtu.be/YlOJ5o8W4Lw

Droop Sacred Head from Olivet To Calvary

What Wondrous Love is This (Animation) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FksX-dmtepA,

Matt Searles version of Psalm 45, O King - https://mattsearles.bandcamp.com/track/o-king-psalm-45

Godfrey Birtill's When I look at the blood



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Relevance and Accessibility

Sir Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016), Oxford Professor of Poetry, once said:

"The craft of poetry is not a spillage but an ingathering; relevance and accessibility strike me as words of very slight value... Accessibility is a perfectly good word if the matter under discussion concerns supermarket aisles, library stacks or public lavatories, but it has no proper place in the discussion of poetry."

(Quoted in Oxford Today, Trinity Term 2017 - Volume 29 No 2,  p63)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Joseph & Jesus

The Revd Prof Oliver O'Donovan reflects on the Old Testament story of Joseph alongside the Easter story. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/04/10/4651280.htm

He says: "I propose to hold the cheerful story of Joseph and his brothers as a mirror up to the story of Christ's betrayal and death. It tells how God sent a man in search of his brothers to rescue them from danger, of how he found them in the end, of how a judgment was accomplished and a reconciliation won."

Into the Far Country: Reflections on the Betrayal of Joseph and the Trial of Jesus

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Palm Sunday - The Triumphal Entry Matthew 21:1-11

In a public service to the clergy, some headings for Sunday's Gospel Lectionary readings.

Quite a number of years ago I jotted down these headings from sermons I listened to on the interweb:

From Nathan Buttery:

(1) The King who Controls his own Destiny (vv1-3)

(2) The King who Comes in Humility (vv4-7)

(3) The King who will Complete the Victory (vv8-11)

From Rico Tice:

(1) The king’s sovereignty (vv1-3)

 (2) The king’s humility (vv4-9)

Today I also listened to:

St Helen’s Bishopsgate – William Taylor – Matthew 21:1-11 – God’s King – http://www.st-helens.org.uk/resources/media-library/src/talk/7414/title/1-god-s-king -19 November 2002 – Series: A Godless Affair

Promise and long-awaited fulfilment: Jesus is the authentic deal, the real McCoy

 Ch 19-25: The authentic Kingdom v the religious sham

 (1)   The arrival of Jesus as God’s king in God’s city

 Donkey a kind of robin reliant not the gold state carriage or presidential helicopter, no stretch limo with police out-riders

not a war horse but donkey a sign of peace, not an armoured personnel carrier

(2)   The acclamation of God’s king by the gathered people of God

The choreography of vv6-9 – who is speaking here

 The king will gather his people to him and bring the redeemed of the Lord into Jerusalem

 Is 35 – the ransomed of the Lord will come in with singing

 Ps 118 – God’s people welcome God’s king into God’s city

 V10 – stirred – suggests an earthquake – the city is shaken by Jesus



Parish Magazine Item


From The Rectory



Of course, being in my line of work, I have been to more than the average number of funerals. Sometimes, understandably, people are not very frank about the deceased, but they are often fascinating occasions. Even if one has known the deceased fairly well, there can often be unexpected revelations in a good eulogy. Though I have never yet been at a funeral where the tribute was given by a former President of the United States.

Image result for martin mcguinness

Martin McGuiness’ funeral was a predictably extraordinary conclusion to a most remarkable life. Reactions ranged from the highest praise to the unmitigated opprobrium. Our newspaper contained remarkable examples of forgiveness and well as some comments which seemed frankly vengeful. It was unusual to hear repentance and divine punishment discussed on the main news bulletins.  



The criticisms of McGuiness are understandable, especially from those who have suffered great loss as a result of his actions or of those under his command. Some chose to overlook the first part of McGuiness’ life for the sake of hailing him for the far-reaching and much needed changes which he helped to bring about in Northern Ireland. Whatever our views of him and his past, his was an amazing journey from the Bogside to Deputy First Minister.  



Norman Tebbit’s wife was permanently disabled as a result of the 1984 IRA bombing on the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I expect we might find his comments distasteful, but they are thought provoking: Tebbit called McGuiness a coward who became a so-called “man of peace” out of personal expediency because he feared arrest and imprisonment for multiple murders. Tebbit claimed the world is a sweeter, cleaner place without McGuiness, who in his view never confessed his sins, repented nor sought atonement. Tebbit said: “He claimed to be a Roman Catholic. I hope that his beliefs turn out to be true and he'll be parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity.”



We can be thankful that it is not our job to judge any individual. We cannot see into men’s hearts and we can trust the Judge of all the world to do right.



It seems to me that we ought to avoid both naivety and cynicism.



I am no expert on the politics of Northern Ireland but some informed commentators have agreed with the view that McGuiness’ conversion to peace was merely tactical. The IRA had been infiltrated by the British security services and both sides knew they could never win by force alone. As I understand it, McGuinness never apologised for the so-called armed struggle, which had included the calculated murder of many innocent people. That cannot be called real repentance.



Yet we must hold on to the fact that God’s transforming power can reach the most hardened. The Bible asks, “Can a leopard change its spots?”, expecting the answer, “no”, but God can change and cleanse even the most wicked of people. By God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit, real repentance and forgiveness are possible. As the hymn has it: “The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.



The extent of God’s grace takes some getting used to. The fact is that all of us are sinners who deserve his judgement. We rightly look to God for justice, but because Jesus died for sinners like you and me on the cross, God can be both the just judge, and the one who vindicates guilty sinners. Ultimately, if we are to have any hope, we must look to God for his mercy, not demand our just deserts. God does not desire the death of a sinner but rather that he might turn from his wickedness and live. Christ’s arms are ever open to any who will turn to him.



The Revd Marc Lloyd