4 Easter YEAR A

I have talked many times about Hebrews 11:1. It is one of key passages in Scripture. it says, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

In other words, Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen. Faith requires us to know and trust with absolute certainty that God’s love for us is unwavering and never ending, and that God’s purpose for us, regardless of what is happening to us, is ultimately to bring us to the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23.

But in order for our faith to be truly a Hebrews 11:1 faith, we need to be able to recognize the presence and voice of God.

This is really a vital thing for us as Christians. Because we if do not know or recognize the presence and voice of God we will find ourselves being led off the path God has for us and even walking into problems and disasters in our Christian walk.

There is a battle going on for you right now in the heavenly realms. When we give our lives to Jesus and trust in him our destiny is secured. But the battle continues because the enemy would love nothing more than to push us away from God’s promises and purposes for our life and even to make us miserable and ineffective for the kingdom of God. And if he can sow discord in the midst of the body of Christ while doing that then he is very happy.

In the words of our Gospel reading this morning there are thieves and robbers who seek to STEAL us. This is why it is so important for us to cultivate and grow in relationship with God so that we may be able to recognize and respond to God’s voice and presence.

Chapter 10 of John’s gospel begins the great teaching of Jesus on the good shepherd. But the context to this passage is in fact chp 9. In Chp 10v1, Jesus is still talking about what had happened to the blind man he had healed.

The blind man, if you remember, had been excommunicated – thrown out of fellowship in the synagogue because Jesus had healed Him. The pharisees were ANGRY at the healing because it caused people to begin asking the right questions about who Jesus might be – and the pharisees hatred of Jesus ironically blinded them to who Jesus was – and they were angry with the man because he had given the credit for his healing to Jesus and called him a great prophet.

The context of John 10:1 is found when the blind man had responded to Jesus voice. Jesus had put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. And he did it. We tend not to think about the implication of the blind man obeying Jesus’ command to go and wash. It was not a simple task. The pool of Siloam was over 1000 yards away – that is half  a mile. He would have had to have found someone willing to take him, to guide him there. Despite the difficulty in going, he obeyed Jesus’ voice and was healed!

It is the blind man that is in Jesus’ mind as he starts to plant the imagery of a shepherd into the hearts of his listeners. You must remember that while chapters and verse are helpful for us in finding passages easily in our Bible’s, they were not in the original manuscripts. Chapters and verses are man made and are sometimes even arbitrarily put in. And this can cause a problem. In our mindset, we tend to subconsciously think that the end of a chapter finishes one thing and the beginning of a chapter starts a new thing. That is not necessarily true in the Bible!

Whenever an Israelite heard the word Shepherd he would think of a leader – spiritual or political.

A Shepherd had responsibilities towards the sheep – responsibilities to love, protect, guide and lead the sheep. Even being willing to give up his life for the sheep.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were known as the shepherds of Israel. The religious guides of the people. Their role was to nurture, love, protect and feed the flock. But what had they done to this blind man? Here was a man who has received an incredible miracle, an amazing blessing, a messianic healing, and yet these shepherds vilify, question and verbally abuse him and then tell him that he was no longer able to worship the Lord in fellowship with other Jews. What had this man done? Nothing.

The shepherds eject this sheep callously.

Their actions showed the type of shepherds they were. The had no love for this man. They had no desire to protect him, nurture him, guide him, feed him and bless him. Instead they had an agenda – and they attacked, abused and rejected any who did not tow their line and their agenda. They were bad shepherds – they were evil shepherds – they were false shepherds BECAUSE of their attitude to the sheep. And Jesus is telling the sheep that they should not listen to them because they are merely thieves and robbers.

Awful isn’t it. And yet this is so prevalent in the church today. That is Shepherds whose actions are not that of a good shepherd but instead they protect their own agenda, even at the cost of the people.

This is why Jesus starts to outline what a true shepherd of Israel looks like. He is making a direct contrast between the pharisees and himself.

The relationship between sheep and shepherd in first century Israel was quite remarkable. Sheep learnt to trust and recognize their shepherds.

A common occurrence for shepherds in Jesus day would be that as night fell, there might be two or three flocks in close proximity. Shepherds would come together and build a waist high pen – often against a rock or cliff face. Then they would put all three flocks into the pen for safety over night and one of the shepherds would lie at the entrance or opening to keep watch while the other shepherds slept nearby.

In the morning the shepherds would come and call their sheep and the sheep would come out and go to the shepherd. The sheep KNEW and recognized the voice of the shepherd and they would ONLY respond to that shepherd. In fact if another shepherd tried to call them they would run away. Which is why Jesus says that the only way for a false shepherd to take sheep would be to climb the wall and TAKE the sheep physically.

The blind man recognized the voice of the shepherd and he ran from the attempts of the false shepherds to make him follow them.

Another thing which was amazing about the shepherds and different from today is that Shepherds led the flock – the sheep followed behind the shepherd, unlike today where shepherds tend to drive the sheep.

To trust the shepherd is to follow him and to trust him where he will lead you. Sheep followed the shepherd BECAUSE they knew that the shepherds would protect, love and guide them, even if the path was hard and dangerous.

Sheep have to know who to follow. And that means knowing the voice of the true shepherd when he calls.

Do you know that God’s heart and purpose for you is to guide you, love you and tend for your needs, even when the path is hard and difficult. But for that to happen WE MUST  know his voice and then we must follow him. We MUST ignore the voices of the false shepherds who seek to steal us away from doing the things of God – from obeying the words of Christ. We don’t have time this morning to examine all the ways false shepherds can attempt to steal us away from the Lord, but the other readings this morning show us one particular way.

A false shepherd will always try and convince us to walk the easy path and to avoid difficulties or hardships. A false shepherd will tell us not to stand up for what is right when it will cost us something. A false shepherd will convince us that we should keep hold of our money rather than give it to the Lord to use as he pleases. A false shepherd will persuade us that it is not prudent to lay everything on the line for God, but that we should hold something back for ourselves just in case.

We see this clearly in Acts and 1 Peter. Let me re-read our Epistle reading this morning: For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it , you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Peter expects believers to do things which will get them into trouble or to lead to suffering. Why? Because to follow in Christ’s footsteps in this world, to do what he asks of us, will lead to suffering. Notice what he says for when you DO RIGHT and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.

Just look at our Acts reading. How easy it would have been for Stephen to have simply apologize and walk away. We would have! Stephen had been defending the claims of Christ when his opponents had him arrested by falsely accusing him of speaking blasphemy against God. When asked to speak he spoke the truth – not angrily, not disrespectfully – but simply the truth and and the truth angered the Jews so much they stone him to death. Stephen laid everything on the line for Jesus. Would we? Stephen does not follow the false shepherd even when his life depended on it. Instead he followed the true Shepherd – because he knew the shepherds voice.

Finally Psalm 23 emphasizes this very clearly. He revives my soul and guides me along the right pathways for his names sake, THOUGH I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. To be guided by the true shepherd means at times we go through the valley – but we do so with no fear. Stephen saw the shepherd as he was about to die and he followed his into eternity.

We MUST be a people, a church, a community who not only know the voice of the true Shepherd but follow it even when it pushes us outside our comfort zone; even when we are asked to put all our resources into God’s hands; even when God asks us to risk everything for his purposes. Anything less is to listen to the false shepherd and so be stolen away from the purposes of God for us.

 

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3 Easter Sermon YEAR A

Last week we saw how God intervened into Thomas’ life in order to deal with a dangerous dose of cynicism which was threatening Thomas’ faith.

 

This morning we encounter two other followers of Jesus who also are dejected about the events of Good Friday and have also doubted the resurrection. Maybe they have left Jerusalem and were now traveling these seven miles to Emmaus because they had given up.

 

While we know one of the names of one of the disciples, Cleopas, we also know that they seem to have been fairly close to the 12. The passage this morning suggests that they were in the upper room when Mary Magdalene came with the news that Jesus’ body was not at the tomb. Listen to what they say: Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning  and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.

 

There is, I think, great symbolism in the fact they are walking away from Jerusalem. They had not waited to found out what was going on. They almost certainly did not believe the women’s report. It’s interesting that Luke alone records the disciples initial reaction to Mary’s announcement that the body was missing – Luke 24:11 says but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

 

The basic problem with these two disciples was the same as Thomas – they had heard about empty tomb but because they had not seen Him nor had they heard from any ‘credible’ witness that Jesus was alive, they gave up and left. Notice their dashed hope – But we were hoping that it was He that was going to redeem Israel. The implication is that the Cross had destroyed their hope that Jesus could redeem Israel.

 

What is wonderful about this story is that it is in their hopelessness that Jesus draws along side them. We have no idea what happened to them afterwards – but these two struggling disciples are visited physically by the Lord Jesus on the day of his resurrection in order to help and encourage them. Jesus knew they needed help and so he went to them!

 

Jesus ALWAYS draws along side us when we are struggling. ALWAYS! We may not recognize him or feel him  or hear him at first but Jesus will always come alongside us.

 

And Jesus will always allows us to speak. I love the way Jesus suddenly appears and starts to walk alongside them and then asks – “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”  Of course Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about but he allows these disciples to vent if you like. The two disciples are astonished at the question – we are given a sense of the enormity of what happened in Jerusalem during that passover – how can you not know!i Is their response. Of course they were talking to the one who knew everything!

 

But Jesus lets them explain it from their perspective.

 

Jesus’ tenderness and love allows us the space and the privilege to speak out – but then Jesus will always correct us, in order that we may see the situation from the right perspective, just as he does with these two disciples – O foolish ones! He says. Or, perhaps better, How dull you are. One translation has How unwise and slow you are.

 

What is he rebuking these two disciples for?

 

He is rebuking the assumption that just because they have not seen or heard evidence of the resurrection, that it had not happened!

 

It is something we as Christians often struggle with. We are told we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing; that the Lord is with us; that he will protect us and guide us, that we should live life without fear and yet we don’t always experience these truths.

 

And this is the point that I want us to consider this morning – The basis of whether these disciples believed in the resurrection should not be based on physical evidence but on what the scriptures teach!

 

This is a very important spiritual principles for us as followers of Jesus. The basis of belief in a  promise of God can never be on what we see and experience but on the what the Bible tells us.

 

The absolute truth of Jesus’ words that he will NEVER leave us NOR forsake us, that he has blessed us and will protect us cannot be based on what we are experiencing right now, but on the fact the promise is in the scriptures and that the scriptures are true.

 

Hence Jesus shows these two disciples the truth of the resurrection NOT by showing them himself but by explaining how it was revealed from the Old Testament. Everything about Jesus and the resurrection can be found in Moses and the Old Testament.

 

Jesus probably began at Genesis 3:15 – the first promise of a redeemer; maybe he explained the significance of the passover in Exodus and how the tabernacle and all its ceremonies in Leviticus all pointed to Jesus, as did the Day of Atonement and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and the prophetic psalms of 22 & 69.

 

Jesus shows these disciples that their unbelief was not just in the reports they heard, but  also in the scriptures they read since they were children. If they had understood the scriptures they would have believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

 

As Jesus taught them the meaning of the scriptures, their hearts burned within them. This is exactly what should happen when we encounter Christ – our hearts should come alive and burn in us.

 

But notice when they DID recognize him. When he broke the bread! Now, Jesus was not presiding over a passover meal here – this was not a ‘communion’ meal. He was simply sitting down to eat with them and doing what all Jews did – blessing the bread as they broke it. BUT, in light of what has just taken place in Jeruslaem and the fact Luke makes it very clear that their eyes are opened to Jesus’ identity at THIS point, I think we are meant to see a link to the Lord’s Supper.

 

At the clergy retreat this past week, at the final Eucharist, Archbishop Bob Duncan gave a meditation on the Eucharist which was extremely powerful. And some of what about about to share with you comes from a small part of that meditation.

 

We have seen so far this morning that our life and our hope in God cannot be based necessarily on what we are EXPERIENCING but on what the SCRIPTURES teach. We cannot say for example “I do not believe God speaks in visions today” just because we have never experienced a vision. Our acceptance of it should be based on what scripture teaches.

 

Often our struggles and doubts in life and even about our faith lead us to ‘walk away from Jerusalem’, that is, take us on a path AWAY from where God would have us be. And during these times it is hard to hear from God or to know his will for us.

 

Yet what we have seen this morning is that God meets these disciples on the road and speaks with them and then reveals himself to them.

 

And I want to suggest to you today that in those times when we are struggling – when the reality of our life situation is not matched by the promise in Scripture – when chaos seems to be overwhelming us, the way we turn it around and walk back towards Jerusalem, is to come to the Lord’s table in Communion.

 

Because it is at the breaking of the bread – at the Communion table – that Jesus has promised to be with us and indeed is REALLY present. Anglican theology believes in the REAL presence of Christ at Communion – not just in the bread and the wine but in the fact that Christ himself is here with us!! And it is here that he speaks with us. Of course God speaks to us at other times through the Bible and his Spirit – but when we come each week to be with one another as the body of Christ. We gather, as the old prayer book,reminds us,  to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary both for the body and the soul. Do you see that – TO ASK, for those things necessary for the BODY and the SOUL.

 

The Lord is powerfully present when we come to worship and to take communion – and so we must be EXPECTANT that God will speak to us – expectant that God will minister to us – expectant that he will change our focus from what we are experiencing to what the scriptures have promised. We must come to communion in an expectation that God will speak to us – speak to us and reveal himself to us in the breaking of the bread. And even if we hear or feel NOTHING this morning – we must leave this place knowing the promise of scripture that God has meet with us.

 

Just like these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will encounter discouragement. But also, just like these disciples, the Lord has promised to walk alongside us and to encourage us with his word and to meet with us when we need Him so that we may return to the path he has for us.

 

The thing is we must be expectant that he will speak to us.

 

As we prepare ourselves to come before the Lord at Communion just hear some of the promises in our reading from Isaiah this morning:

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine

 

When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

 

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

 

Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you

 

Fear not, for I am with you.

 

May Congregational Letter

When we became a believer – when we trusted in Christ, we became part of the body of Christ. We joined the church of God, regardless of whether we belong to a specific congregation or not.

When we enter into the body of Christ as a believer we enter into a destiny that God has for us.

I would suggest that we have multiple destinies and while they are connected, each one helps us with the other. The three destinies we have are:

  1. Our general destiny in the body of Christ
  2. Our specific destiny as a believer in the body of Christ
  3. Our specific destiny in our personal context as members of the body of Christ

Let me explain.

OUR GENERAL DESTINY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

In Christ, our first destiny is secured and finished with. As a believer I am part of the body of Christ which means that should I die today I will go to heaven. This destiny is assured and secured.

This where we should begin because it gives us confidence and security. Regardless of what happens here on earth my future is assured.

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY AS A BELIEVER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

While our future is secured, our role here on earth as believers is to point to and declare the greatness of God. We have a role in the church. We have a destiny in serving the body on earth.

Once we understand these too destinies, only then can we begin to look at our third destiny…

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY IN OUR PERSONAL CONTEXT AS MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

Romans 12:5 says We are all part of his one body and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other and each of us needs all the others.

Each of us, as a member of the body of Christ, assured of heaven, and as believer’s whose role it is to declare the greatness of God and point people to Christ, need to work out our role how we serve God in a specific church.

It’s not that the church needs your gifts – it’s that the church cannot be the church without your gifts.

Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:27 that you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, speaking about the time after his conversion, says:

For what service I was accepted I knew not: but a deep consciousness that I was no longer my own took possession of me….I was not my own to give myself away; for I know not when or how He whose alone I was, and for whose disposal I felt I must ever keep myself free, might call for service.

The question we should ask is not if I am called to serve – but to WHAT is God calling to me to serve in the body of Christ.

The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Service is not something which should be forced – but it is part of the transformative nature of being a believer, and so it should be a part of our process, being in fellowship with each other, to help another discover the area, the destiny of service that God has prepared for us.

Matthew 25 has the parable of the talents.

The master gives 5 bags of talents / gold to one servant, 2 to another and 1 to the third – he then goes on a long journey.

The master gave according to the servants ability – the master knew what each servant was capable of and he gave according to their abilities – but he gave responsibility to EACH of them.

God knows our abilities – he knows our gifts – he knows that we may hate speaking in public, but he given each of us some responsibility – he has entrusted to us something for us to do for him.

Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare by Chip Ingram

51UHRnz92EL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_ Our men’s breakfast book club read this Book over April. This is the second book which we have read on spiritual warfare and I feel this is an important topic for our church. Satan delights in nothing more than trying to disrupt and destroy the church, friendships and fellowship. For Chip, he suggests that there are 5 basic truths we must be aware of: Basic Truth #1: There Is an Invisible World – you may rarely see it or you may have NEVER ‘seen it’ or experienced it – but it is real. Basic Truth #2: We Are Involved in an Invisible War – you may not like the term, but it is the truth.  We are in the middle of a war. Basic Truth #3: Our Foe Is Formidable – don’t think you can take satan on as you please. He is dangerous… Basic Truth #4: We Must Respect Our Foe but Not Fear Him Basic Truth #5: We Do Not Fight for Victory; We Fight from Victory The rest of the book revolves around these basic truths. Section one looks at What Every Believer Needs to Know; section two examines How to Prepare Yourself for Spiritual Battle; section three shows How to Do Battle with the Enemy and Win and finally section four explores Deliverance from Demonic Influence. The bottom line for Ingram is that every believer needs to:

  • maintain a healthy spiritual life.
  • Understand your position in Christ as spelled out in the first three chapters of Ephesians.
  • Discern when demonic influence may be the cause.
  • Claim God’s promises out loud.
  • Then take your authority and position in Christ, and command the demonic forces to cease their activity and depart.

I think this is a valuable book for every christian to read. It is easy to understand and well laid out. But most importantly it challenges us to be aware of and helps equip us in the spiritual battle each of us is involved with. Let me finish with an exhortation from Ingram; I urge you, then, as a matter of utmost importance, to be strong in the Lord. Stand firm and be alert. Gird yourself and use your weapons. Above all, pray. You represent the greatest army in all of history , and you fight for the greatest of causes . When the King comes in victory, you will receive the honors of a valiant warrior. And the invisible war will never need to be fought again