What is the very worst news that you could receive today? What news do you fear the most to hear?
The answer to this question will differ for each one of us here this morning.
What makes news bad or terrible, reveals a number of things. It reveals what is important to us, what we care about, what we have placed our security in, what we depend upon and what we love.
What is the very worst news for one person, may not be that bad for another. The fact that the stock market crashes may well be the very worst news for somebody. For me, it is not bad news – I do not own one stock. Maybe it’s that you have lost your job, or that your house will be repossessed
Or maybe the very worst news is the word that many of us may fear – cancer, or some other disease or dangerous health issue.
Maybe it is to hear that your spouse has been unfaithful; or that a parent has died, or that your child has died.
All these things can be news we fear.
But I would suggest to you that there is even worst news than any of these things. It is the news that Judah received in our Old Testament reading this morning. Well actually, our lectionary reading has left it out. Our reading is from Jeremiah 14:1-10, 19-22. But v11 says Then the Lord said to me “Do not pray for good to come to these people. Even if they fast, I will not hear their cries for help. Even if they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them. Instead I will kill them through wars, famines and plagues.”
And even worse than that appears in chp 15v1 – where God says Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people I would not feel pity for them, Get them away from me! Tell them to go away.
Judah, like Israel, had walked away from God – had lived their lives and done things totally contrary to God’s commands and now God gives them the news – the most tragic, horrendous news ever – that He is going to reject them. Just as Israel was over run in the north because of their rebellion so now Judah, including Jerusalem and the Temple, will be given over to Babylon, despite the pleas of the prophet Jeremiah.
Sadly, today, to be in rebellion against God is not regarded as bad news by many. In fact it is not regarded as news. Ask people on the streets how they feel about God rejecting them and they shrug their shoulders and say “I don’t care.” Or they may tell you that you are nuts and that God loves everyone. Or, for some extreme people, they say great, I want to go to hell because that is where the fun is.
For the majority of those in Judah including their leaders and religious leaders, their existence was now built on a lie – they were rebelling against God – ignoring him – and even their prophets were living a lie – v13 of chp 14 tells us that the prophets were saying “hey, everything’s going to be OK – God is not angry with you – you will not experience war or suffer famine. Everlasting peace and prosperity is coming to the land.”
Only Jeremiah was standing against the tide – standing up and saying, No – this is wrong – listen to God’s word – listen to me – you are is a very bad place – repent or you will go into exile.
The issue was not that the Jews were sinning – God knew Israel would sin, that is why he gave the law, the sacrificial law, to reveal to them their sin, and a way of living that enabled them to stay in relationship with God through the sacrifice of animals and the day of atonement. The issue was not they were sinning – but that they did not think that their sin, their actions was bad news. They did not acknowledge that their lives were far, far from God.
The very worst news for these Jews revolves not around the fact there was drought, or that they could not find water, or that the crops were not growing, but around the fact that their life was a lie – that they had listened to false things from those claiming religious leadership – that they had ignored God. And now, having sent his prophets to tell them they were heading down the wrong path, having tried desperately to warn them that they were heading for disaster, God was now going to exercise his judgment.
This is the very ‘worst’ news that we can receive. No other news comes close to being bad, than the realization That we are ignoring God – that we are listening to people who are not really God’s representatives because they are distorting what God has said to mean something which is not true and that our lives, all that we think is important, all that we think is real, is actually a lie because God is not at the center of it all.
Is this what you would regard as the worst news you could possibly receive? Do you regard the news that you are separated from God as worst news than a diagnosis of cancer, or that a parent or sibling, or spouse or child has died?
The Israelites in Jeremiah’s day needed to come to understand this bad news. They need to come to the place whereby they recognized that actually, the worst place in the whole universe to be is in a place without God – and so do we today.
Because it is only when we have reached that point that we can then accept and grasp onto the good news – that God has a rescue plan that has an answer and a solution to the bad news.
This good news is the what we call the gospel. The news that God has acted in such a way that we need never be in a place where we are separated from God – and that rescue plan is Jesus Christ. Let Jesus into your life – fall in love with Jesus and the very worst news is eradicated. You will NEVER, ever be separated from God again.
And then, all other news which the world may see as bad, is no longer bad news – it’s just news …even the news that you will die is no longer bad news when you have accepted the good news….
Jeremiah knew the good news. He had a glimpse into the promised new covenant of the hope to come. In Jeremiah 23:3-5 God reveals to Jeremiah his plan to gather a remnant and that from the house of David the righteous branch will be raised up – of course he means the Messiah. And then in jeremiah 31:31 we have that famous passage which says The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Jeremiah new the good news, which is why he was able to go through what he went through. He was a prophet hated by the Judah’s leaders. He was suffered continual rejection, imprisonment and physical abuse during life. But this was not bad news for him – bad news would be to reject his God. In the end, Jeremiah sees what was unthinkable for a jew to see – Judah defeated by gentiles and the temple desecrated. But he does so safe in the knowledge he is in God’s hands. We see this in Chp 39, v11-12 where King Nebuchadnezzar gave orders that Jeremiah was not to be harmed – and they allowed him to stay in Judah with the remnant that remained.
Knowing the good news does not keep us from going through tough times – but the good news should give us a perspective which is has an eternal focus – that being in Christ, with God we are in right place – the safe place – regardless of what we experience.
Paul exhibits this in the epistle reading. Again, not in our lectionary reading but just before our reading begins Paul, prepares Timothy – there is a time coming when people will not listen to sound teaching – they will ignore the truths in the Bible – they will listen to teachers who are not true – but is Paul worried about this? No. Timothy is there – he will carry on. Paul has mentored timothy and Timothy is to mentor others into leadership. Paul knows he is about to die. He is writing this from a Roman Prison. Is this bad news for him? No…. He trusts in only one piece of good news… the gospel…. And so even the bad news that he is about to die is not bad news. He tells Timothy in v5 to endure all hardship and do the work of an evangelist – in other words don’t worry about the tough times – that is not bad news – but tell everyone THE ONE PIECE OF GOOD NEWS THAT IS ETERNAL – that Jesus Christ died for you to pay for everything you ever done wrong and ever will do wrong and was raised to life that all who trust in Him will live for all eternity with God.
Can you not sense the joy in Paul’s words as he wrote about the fact he was about to die and what that mean’t? That he was going to receive the crown of righteousness which was waiting for him – as Paul says in Philippians – to die is gain, to live is Christ.
Paul knew that the only way to get the good news is to understand the bad news. That is what the tax collector had grasped… that is why he went home saved from the temple and not the Pharisee … he realized the bad news… he realized who he was without God.. and he approached God and looked to God for the good news.
The bad news in this life is not that we may lose our jobs… or have our house repossessed…. Or that we may be poor… or that we will lose family members… or that we may get a disease which will kill us…the bad news is are we living a life which is against God? Are we living a life which does not have God at the center? Have we asked God to come and take our lives, that we may live it for him, in the safety and knowledge that in Him we have the GOOD NEWS which eradicates all the bad news.
Just read the Psalm this morning – Psalm 84V1-6. This is what the good news should gives us – that our souls have a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; that our hearts and bodies rejoice in the living God – that we are happy to be praising the Lord – that our strength is in Him and that we want, long to walk the way of Jesus, that even though we experience a desolate valley we will find it a place of springs.
Have we this good news? Do our hearts cry out – better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere – would we rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the world?
I pray that the gospel – the good news of Christ Jesus will so impact our lives that we will be able to say, will the Apostle Paul, The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. AMEN
Many of you have heard me speak about the housing estate my wife and I lived on in London. It’s nickname was Alcatraz – it was a rough place to live and most of those who lived there were very poor. Our next door neighbor was a lady called Rita. She was a frightening looking lady – 6ft tall, skin covered in blotches and sores – blood shot eyes. She was an alcoholic, with a teenage son who was constantly in trouble with the police and a husband who had cancer. Her house stank – rancid from human and dog mess on the floor – sparsely furnished with old and flea ridden sofas.
She would regularly knock on my door when drunk to ask for some help – her husband would fall out of bed and she could not get him back in – or she would want to talk about something. I tried to give her the gospel. We even took her to church a number of times.
Looking back, I am ashamed to admit that while my Christian duty was to respond to her requests for help my heart was not right and I did the minimum necessary to make sure the interaction with her was over as quickly as I could politely make it happen.
Did I ever cook her meals to make sure her only diet was not beer? No. Did I ever go and clean her house so that she might not live in the filth she was in? No. Did I try and get her help for her addiction? No.
Most Bible studies and seminaries do not prepare you for this.
It is often our natural instinct to keep our interaction with poverty, real poverty at arms length.
If I were to ask this morning, “what is our attitude to the poor” I wonder what we would say? What is your attitude to the poor? Does it, somewhere, include love and compassion?
How we treat the poor, the weak, those who have nothing, matters. It matters because it matters to God.
We cannot call ourselves Christ centered and never get involved, hands on involved, with the poor. If our Bible studies and sermons and theology and reading of books never lead us to get out and leave our homes and churches to stand side by side with the poor then we have utterly lost sight of Christ.
How the nation of Israel dealt with the poor was one of the basis of God’s judgment on them. It was part of the judgment God pronounces in Amos – chapter two verse 7 God says that Israel has committed covenant transgressions; that is they had disobeyed God; one of which was trampling upon the poor and pushing the destitute away. And in our passage from Amos this morning we see the arrogant living in luxury without any concern for the state of the nation.
It matters what our attitude is to the poor; it matters how we treat the poor. We tend to have the same attitude that was around even in the first century – that prosperity was one of the marks of a good man blessed by God. The Pharisees believed this. The Jews believed this. Even the disciples believed this when they ask Jesus incredulously ‘who then can be saved if not the wealthy’. Wealth, prosperity is not necessarily a mark of a good man blessed by God. Quite the opposite may be true according to the Apostle Paul.
Our epistle reading begins in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy about godliness. In v6 of chapter 6 Paul encourages Timothy by saying that godliness with contentment is a great gain. Be content with what you have. Then in v9 he says that those who desire to be rich and pursue wealth puts you into spiritual danger and can even lead you to stray from faith. In fact, Paul says that to long for wealth and riches will lead people into temptation that will plunge them into ruin and destruction.
The Apostle Paul implores Timothy to pursue not wealth but godliness and faithfulness; to obey Christ’s commands because Christ is coming back – Christ is eternal – wealth is not. And finally Paul tells Timothy to encourage the rich to the do the same – pursue godliness and faithfulness and obey Christ’s commands.
An example of what happens to someone who pursues wealth is the Rich man in the gospel reading. The story makes no direct assertion about his, or for that matter Lazarus’ overall morality or faith.
The glaring, fundamental charge against this rich man is not that he is rich but that he ignores a man who is in desperate need. The bottom line is that the rich man is condemned for doing NOTHING to help the poor man on his own door step. Matthew Henry, the puritan Bible Scholar writes What was the attitude of the rich man towards Lazarus? We are not told that he abused him but it is implied that he slighted him. Here was a real object of charity and a very moving one, which spoke for itself: it was presented to him at his own gate. And that reveals something of the hardness of this rich man’s heart. He was not moved to give this beggar a meal from the abundance of his table – indeed he does not even give Lazarus the scraps that are reserved for the dogs.
Such behavior, by a Jew to another Jew, (for only a jew would say ‘father Abraham’ as the rich man does when he has died) is a covenant transgression. Of the many passages in the Old Testament which could be cited one is sufficient – Deut 15:7-9 says If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the LORD your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs. Be careful lest you entertain the wicked thought that the seventh year, the year of cancellation of debts, has almost arrived, and your attitude be wrong toward your impoverished fellow Israelite and you do not lend him anything; he will cry out to the LORD against you and you will be regarded as having sinned.
The rich man had indeed hardened his heart and his hardened heart continued into eternity for even there he saw Lazarus as simply a stooge to do his biddening.
Whether or not Edmund Burke truly said “For evil to triumph it is enough only that good men do nothing” we must realize that the option of doing NOTHING is not Biblical. We are not called to just have knowledge of Christ; or to Worship in a building once a week; we are called to LIVE OUT faith amongst our community BEING the Church, BEING Christ to those who need help.
Again, Matthew Henry writes Those who are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their difficulties. Those who cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand.
The opportunity for the rich man to use what God had given him in a way that would please God ended when Lazarus dies. As the apostle Paul reminds us, we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Despite the vivid contrast between the rich man and Lazarus at the beginning of the story, the one who had everything compared to the one who had nothing, death brings us all onto one level and Divine, Heavenly wealth takes no notice of what kind of earthly wealth or social status you may have had.
In eternity it was the rich man outside the gate and Lazarus was on inside. And have you noticed that the rich mans tongue, the tongue that tasted all the fine and sumptuous food, is burning. As one commentator said, He who denied a crumb, is denied a drop of water.
The rich man realizes that he is separated from God and realizes that his family are in eternal danger and so he asks for a message to be sent to them. But this is denied him. Why? Because the issue is not one of knowing what to do, the rich man knew what he SHOULD DO. The family, the rich man knew the law of Moses and the prophets – they simply ignored it. If God’s prophetic word cannot convince and put a crack in a hard heart, neither will miracles!
The irony and joy of this story is that what is denied the rich man’s brothers; a word of warning from the grave, is given to the reader of the gospel. Do we hear the warning?
So my challenge to us as a Church and to each of us individually is what are we going to do? By that I don’t mean that that we should go and organize a trip to Hatti or the Dominon Republic – as wonderful as such trips are. What I mean is who are the poor that God has placed at our gate and what will we do about it? God was not asking the rich man to go FIND the poor to help. Just to help the poor at his own gate.
Who are the poor at your own gate? Maybe God has sent them to you and I so that we will help them. Or are our hearts so hardened that we can no longer even recognize the poor in front of our eyes? If so we must repent and plead that God would give us compassion and mercy for those around us who need our help.
This is not a call to social action so much as a call to live a Christ centered life. We are not to elevate feeding the poor to the ONLY action of Christianity but we are not, as some have, to minimize or relegate it to a secondary activity behind bible study and theology.
We are to do this because Christ commands us to and we should be utterly desirous to please Christ in every way we can. This is about living life as one who loves and knows the living, Trinitarian God. This is about living life to complete fullness, living life as it should be lived.
The call of one who has meet with and committed their life to Jesus Christ involves many things – prayer, studying scripture, fellowship and worshipping together, growing in godliness and faithfulness, proclaiming the Lordship of Christ and his grace to those around us, helping, loving and caring for the poor, the widows and the orphans, the rejected and the outcast.
Put simply, it’s about being a Christian. So, unlike the rich man, let use what we have been given by God in a way that is pleasing to God, pursuing godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness.
It matters what we do about the poor in our community. It matters what our attitude is. It matters because it matters to our Lord Jesus Christ.
A recent sermon of mine…
Listen here: Sunday Sermon 23 May 2010
Or read it below:
|Acts 2: 1 – 11||Psalm 33: 12 – 22|
|1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 13||John 20: 19 – 23|
Some people are fanatical about fitness and exercise. You can tell I am not one of them. But I do take comfort in the Apostles words to Timothy when he says: “physical exercise10 has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way”.
Exercise for some is simply about looks – it’s about having chiseled abbs and bulging muscles. However for the majority it’s about staying healthy. And we stay healthy so that we can live longer. In our minds Life and good health go together.
I am a big fan of the TV show “The Biggest Loser”. I don’t know if you have ever seen it, but they take people who are really over weight, move them into a special house and over six months train them until they become fit. All this is wrapped up as a game – at the end of the week, the two people who have lost the least amount of weight are put up for evicition and the rest of the house have to vote which one leaves.
The most recent season has had a guy on there who has lost, in six months, 204 Ibs – he has gone of over 508Lbs to 299LBs. He has gone from not being able to climb stairs to running a marathon in 6 hrs 28 mins. He and the other contestants have said over and over again, “I have my life back” – “I can live again” – “I am alive.”
But what is it that gives us life? What is it that makes us live? What do we mean when we say “I feel alive!” Ask a Doctor this question and you will get a lecture on the antomy and the fact that your heart is beating and your blood is flowing and there is oxygen in your body. Hence the emphasis on healthy living, diet and exercise.
But is this a good enough answer? Not from the Bible’s perspective.
This morning is Pentecost Sunday, and Pentecost gives us the answer to the question What is Life?
Life only comes through the Breathe of God – the Holy Spirit – the one who was at the beginning of creation; the one whom Jesus promised would come after his ascension.
Without the Holy Spirit we quite simply do not have life. We may be breathing oxygen – our lungs may be moving in and out, our heart may be beating but we do not have life because one day our lungs will give up, our heart will stop beating and we will die!! No diet, no amount of exercise will prevent this.
There are many, physically healthy people with sculptured abbs and bulging muscles who will not be in heaven.
Life – being alive – having life is more than just blood, bone and muscle and our bodies functioning well. In Genesis 2, God creates Adam from the dust of the ground. But Adam does not LIVE until God breathes his breath INTO Adam – The LORD God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
We see something similar in the Ezek 37. Ezekiel is shown a valley of dry dead bones. And God says to Ezekiel “Prophesy over these bones, and tell them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 This is what the sovereign LORD says to these bones: Look, I am about to infuse breath5 into you and you will live. 6 I will put tendons6 on you and muscles over you and will cover you with skin; I will put breath7 in you and you will live. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
God’s breath – his Spirit – the Holy Spirit – gives life.
In our Gospel reading we have Jesus appearing before the disciples after his resurrection. He greets them and then what does he do? He BREATHES on them.
The disciples are seeing Jesus Christ for the first time in His new status as the Son of God who is victorious over sin and death. Paul tell us that Jesus is the first fruits from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). This is the Post-resurrection Jesus. And the disciples have now transitioned from knowing Christ re-resurrection to now living in the aftermath of Christ’s sacrifice and victory. And so when Jesus breaths on the disciples he is symbolically imparting to them the post-resurrection life that He has now made available for all who trust in Him. For many in that upper room, their bodies will be tortured, beaten and killed for the sake of the Gospel – their bodies will physically decay BUT they will have LIFE because in Christ death has been defeated death and paid the price for sin. Therefore the disciples will share in the resurrection life, eternal life, of which Christ is the first fruits.
This is also the beginning of the disciples new life – a new ministry. Jesus says, “Just as the Father has sent me so I am sending YOU.” What did the Father send Christ to do? Jesus defines his mission in John 18:37 – I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. They are to go forward in the resurrection life of Christ that they have received to continue the work of Christ in the world – that is, bearing witness to the truth and leading people to faith in Him.
This is what it means to live – to have life. It is to have the resurrected life of Christ in us. When we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of the Universe, we begin a new life – a life which is a LIVING life – a life which will last beyond this physically life into an eternal life with God in the new Creation.
But Jesus has not just given us LIFE – but he has also given us the POWER that comes with this life. Jesus inaugurates the mission of the disciples and then in Acts 2 they receive the POWER to go out and live this new life of being Christ’s witnesses to the whole world.
That this happens on Pentecost is not coincidental. Pentecost was the Jewish feast to celebrate the beginning of the harvest, which happened 50 days after Passover (Pentecost means fiftieth). How symbolic that Jesus, having breathed on them resurrection life now sends the disciples out into the world to begin the harvest of souls in the POWER of the Holy Spirit. The harvest has begun and the disciples are the first harvesters.
And we follow in their footsteps. As believers and as members of the Church, we too are sent out with the Life and Power of the Spirit to continue this work of declaring the Lordship of Jesus Christ and bearing witness to the truth of the teaching of scripture to a world separated from God.
We cannot harvest without the power of the Spirit, and we cannot have the power of the Spirit unless we have the resurrected life of Christ in us.
Only by having Christ do we have Life – apart from Christ there is no life.
John’s Gospel begins and ends with this these. John 1:4 says In Him (the Word, Christ) was life.
And Chapter 20:31 John says that the gospel was written so that people would believe and have life in his name.
Humanity was created for relationship with God. To NOT be in relationship with God is not to know what life is. To not be in relationship with God is to not know the true meaning of life. To live life without Christ is to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It is to live a pointless life.
How do we receive this life and power? By asking Christ to come into our life; by confessing that we have lived in our own way instead of his way and that we are sorry; that we will trust in him, in his promises, in his commands and that we will join in the harvest. And as we do that, as our epistle shows us, the Spirit will impart to us various diverse gifts to each person so that we can become effective harvesters for Christ
So, this morning, do we have LIFE? Do we have Christ? Are we harvesters going out to work the fields? Or are we dead people walking? Are we LIFELESS?
There is no middle ground. There is no fence. There is either LIFE or DEATH and without Christ, without the Spirit we are DEAD and we will remain DEAD.
This morning we can ask God to send his Holy Spirit upon us. We can ask for this LIFE. If you know that you do not have Christ then this morning you can receive LIFE and you can LIVE, not just now, but for.
If you now that you do have Christ, then let as ask that the Holy Spirit who dwells is us will manifest himself through us – that He might speak to us, to give us a fresh blessing, a new gift, a powerful sense of his presence with us, a deeper desire to worship him and a renewed urgency to do the work we have been given to do.
This is what Pentecost is about. Each year we can come to our God and say – THANK YOU FOR LIFE – the life and power of your Spirit that is poured upon all who trust you in you that you may be glorified in our life and in the world.
Let me end with the words of an old hymn:
O Breath of God, breathe on us now
And move within us while we pray
The spring of our new life art thou
The very light of our new day.