Monday, 28 January 2013

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a One Body, Many Parts

As a child one of my favourite books was Aesop’s Fables.  This is one of his short stories. 

One day it occurred to the members of the body that they were doing all the work and that the belly was having all the food. So they held a meeting and after a long discussion decided to go on strike until the belly consented to take its proper share of the work. So for a day or two the hands refused to take the food, the mouth refused to receive it and the teeth had no work to do. But after a day or two members began to find that they themselves were not in very active condition. The hands could hardly move, the mouth was all parched and dry, while the legs were unable to support the rest. Thus they found that even the belly in its dull quiet way was doing necessary work for the body and that all must work together or the body would go to pieces.

There are many parallels between this short story by Aesop and what Paul writes about the church in 1 Corinthians 12.  There are three points I want to draw from this reading:
·        We need one another
·        We differ from one another
·        We are to care for one another & the world

We need one another (15,16,21)

One of the first points Paul makes is that as the body of Christ we need one another.  “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (14-19)

Just as our human bodies are made up of different parts, so the church is composed of many parts, so that it may function as one body--the body of Christ. The emphasis is on the mutual dependence and concern of the various members of the body. As the organs of the human body--such as the eye, hand, head, and feet--need each other, so we also need each other

Paul makes it clear that in the body of Christ we are ALL important no matter who we are, or what position we might have within the life of the church.  We all have a part to play in the body of Christ.  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”  And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.      

If you look at an individual brick in a large wall, it might not seem that important.  But if you were to remove that brick the wall would become weaker as a result, because each brick helps give strength to the wall, each brick is an integral part of the overall structure.  In 1 Peter 2 we are described as the living stones, who are being made into a spiritual household, to be strong and to grow we need one another, each one of us has a part to play in God’s church. 

We need each other not only for the health of the body as a whole, but also to enable each individual to operate at full potential.  If as Christians we choose to operate independently from others, we reduce our own effectiveness & that of the body as a whole.

When we become Christians we are not only called into a relationship with God, but also with one another, so that we can support and encourage one another.  If we are serious about our Christian faith, then we need to be serious about being part of God’s family the church.  When people say “I don’t need to go to church in order to be a Christian.”  My response is always, “We don’t GO to church, we ARE the church.”

The story is told of a vicar who went to visit a parishioner who had stopped going to church.  When the vicar got to the man’s house he found him sitting by the fire.  And without saying a word the vicar got the tongs and brought out one lump of coal from the flames and put it to one side.  For a few minutes the lump of coal continued to radiate heat and light, but eventually the lump of coal began to cool down.  Then the vicar put the now cool lump of coal back in the fire and slowly it began to radiate heat and light once more.  The man got the message, and said Thank you for the sermon vicar, I will see you in church on Sunday. 

We need one another, we cannot live our Christian lives in isolation.  This is why the writer of Hebrews says “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrew 10:25)

We differ from one another (17-20)

The second point that Paul makes is that we differ from one another.  Many parts, yet one body is Paul’s conclusion.  A body which is all eyes & ears is not a body.  Each member is unique, distinctive and irreplaceable.  We are to rejoice in our diversity, and learn from one another. And by the grace of God we have all been given gifts from the Holy Spirit, to be used for the common good.  

The difficulties come when in the life of the church one or two people try to control or do everything.  Or when we see the ministry of the church as something that the Vicar or Minister is called and paid to do, and that we don’t have a role to play.  To use Paul’s imagery that would be like the eye saying, ‘Right I’m going to be in charge of everything from now on.’  But where would the sense of touch or smell be if we only used our eyes.  If we were to use only certain organs in our body and neglect others it would lead to atrophy.  And as soon as that happens the whole body becomes much weaker and poorer. 

Isn’t it wonderful that we are all different in terms of our appearance, our personalities, likes and dislikes, and in the things we are good at?  And isn’t it wonderful that God gives us different gifts to serve one another and serve Him. 

As the body of Christ we are called to live together in peace and love with people who are often very different to us.  This is why the church should be a sign of hope and reconciliation in the world.  Because it is God who has made us different, who also holds us together in unity.  

We are to care for one another & the world (22-26)

Paul goes on to say that although the body is many diverse parts, we are all called to care for one another.  There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.  

Mutual care, says Paul, is intrinsic to the body.  Paul illustrates this in two ways.  First, just as we pay particular attention to the less presentable parts of our physical bodies; we should be similarly ready to give special care to those in the body of Christ who might feel readily dispensable but are in fact vital to the health of the body.  Secondly, this care is to be expressed both by ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice’ and by ‘weeping with those who weep’.  We demonstrate care & love for one another when we enter into the joys & the sorrows of other members of the body. 

This poses quite a challenge to us in our consumer culture, because the emphasis is always upon what we can get as consumers, and how we can have our needs met.  I think that this often extends into church life.  For instance do we come to church expecting our particular needs to be met, and possibly going home disappointed if it doesn’t happen, or do we come to church having thought and prayed about how we can serve and care for others? 

The more we as the body of Christ care for one another, the more we will find our own individual needs met.  We find a great deal of security from knowing that ‘we belong to the body’, and also that we have a distinctive contribution to make to the body. 

But we mustn’t just think of Christian service in terms of what takes place within church.  We are the body of Christ in the world, which we are called to serve.  Ministry is therefore a daily vocation. 

Last week at St Martin’s we looked at the story of the miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee where water was turned into wine.  This miracle didn’t just benefit a select chosen few, it benefited everyone in the community.  Our calling as God’s people is to be a blessing, not just to those within the church, but to those beyond the church, to the whole community. 

In our Gospel reading, Jesus’ laid out what his ministry was all about. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)   

This ministry that Jesus began, we as the body of Christ, the church, are called to continue.  Jesus said ‘as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’(John 20:21) 

There is both a physical and spiritual dimension to this ministry.  For example there are people in our world who are spiritually blind, who need their eyes opening to God’s love and purposes for their lives.  And there is also the problem of physical poverty, injustice and inequality in the world, which we are called to tackle. 

I came across this quote from Chris Mead, who works for Christian Aid.  “This world we live in – the one we see out of our bedroom windows or on our TV screens – isn’t the world as it was meant to be.  Our global society is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, carbon smudged and toner burned, bearing little or no resemblance to the original template.”  Our calling as the church is to build the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven, so that it represents God’s original template, and we do this by continuing the work Jesus started.  It is for this reason that Bill Hybels, a church leader in America, describes the local church as the “hope for the world.” 

In Romans 12:5-12 Paul writes.  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. God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously.  If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically.

We are the body of Christ in the world today, the hands to do his work, the feet to run his errands, and the voice to speak for him. 

He has no hands but our hands
To do his work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead all in his way;
He has no voice but our voice
To tell all how he died;
He has no help but our help
To lead them to his side.

As the body of Christ
·        We need one another
·        We differ from one another
·        We are called to care for one another & the world

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Church is Born: Good News For All (75)

Acts 10:1-11:18

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.’ When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him,and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.

About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’ The voice said to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.’ So Peter went down to the men and said, ‘I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?’ They answered, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.’ So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.

The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believersfrom Joppa accompanied him. The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshipped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; and he said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’

Cornelius replied, ‘Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. He said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.” And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’ 

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The Rainbow Coalition 

The Church must welcome all who believe.

The over-riding result of this meeting between Peter and Cornelius was to clarify a fundamental truth about God’s Good News. salvation through Jesus Christ is for everyone, not just a select group of insiders. The Kingdom of Heaven is the ultimate “rainbow coalition.” It’s open to all who believe in Jesus Christ (10.43) and who therefore are able to receive the Holy Spirit (10.47).


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Church is Born: Sharing The Word (74)

Acts 8:26-40

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth. 
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’ 
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea. 

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Unsung Hero

Phillip shows us how to effectively share our faith.

Notice how Phillip witnessed for Jesus. He started with questions (8.30), not answers. It’s important to understand a person’s struggle before we offer a solution. Next, he explained what the Bible said about Jesus (8.35). Most significantly, he was willing to take action even when he didn’t know “why.” Philip had no idea what he’d find in the desert (8.26). He only knew God wanted him to go there and be ready.


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Church is Born: The First Martyr (73)

Acts 6:8-8:8

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.Then they secretly instigated some men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’ And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Then the high priest asked him, ‘Are these things so?’ And Stephen replied:

‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, “Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.” Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and maltreat them for four hundred years. “But I will judge the nation that they serve,” said God, “and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.” Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.

‘The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favour and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household.Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.

‘But as the time drew near for the fulfilment of the promise that God had made to Abraham, our people in Egypt increased and multiplieduntil another king who had not known Joseph ruled over Egypt. He dealt craftily with our race and forced our ancestors to abandon their infants so that they would die. At this time Moses was born, and he was beautiful before God. For three months he was brought up in his father’s house; and when he was abandoned, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. So Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in his words and deeds.

‘When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his relatives, the Israelites. When he saw one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his kinsfolk would understand that God through him was rescuing them, but they did not understand. The next day he came to some of them as they were quarrelling and tried to reconcile them, saying, “Men, you are brothers; why do you wrong each other?” But the man who was wronging his neighbour pushed Mosesaside, saying, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?” When he heard this, Moses fled and became a resident alien in the land of Midian. There he became the father of two sons.

‘Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: “I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, “Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.”

‘It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, “Who made you a ruler and a judge?” and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, “God will raise up a prophet for you from your own peopleas he raised me up.” He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, “Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and revelled in the works of their hands. But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets:
“Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices
   for forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 
No; you took along the tent of Moloch,
   and the star of your god Rephan,
     the images that you made to worship;
so I will remove you beyond Babylon.”

‘Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as Goddirected when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. Our ancestors in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our ancestors. And it was there until the time of David, who found favour with God and asked that he might find a dwelling-place for the house of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says, 
“Heaven is my throne,
   and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
   or what is the place of my rest? 
Did not my hand make all these things?”

‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him.
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.

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Seeds In The Wind

Sometimes “religion” keeps us from hearing what God is saying.

God had given Stephen a message for the religious leaders. Tragically, they weren’t the least bit interested. For one thing they were too angry. Also, they loved their religion more than they loved God (6.13, 14). There’s nothing wrong with appreciating your church and its traditions. But watch out if they become too important to you.


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Church is Born: Growth & Persecution (72)

Acts 3:1-4:37

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesushas given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out from the people.” And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.’
While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem,with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is
“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
   it has become the cornerstone.” 
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
“Why did the Gentiles rage,
   and the peoples imagine vain things? 
The kings of the earth took their stand,
   and the rulers have gathered together
     against the Lord and against his Messiah.” 
For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

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A Completely Different Team

Unity in the Church is a powerful witness to Jesus.

Some think that the most unique thing about the early church was their approach to money and possessions (4.32-37). It was impressive and challenges our attachment to possessions today. But it seems that their willingness to practice “radical sharing” was the result of an even more impressive trait. unity (4.32). Imagine what the church could do today if they were “one in heart and mind.”


E100 Bible Reading Challenge: The Church is Born: The Day of Pentecost (71)

Acts 2:1-47

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
   and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
   and your old men shall dream dreams. 
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
   in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
     and they shall prophesy. 
And I will show portents in the heaven above
   and signs on the earth below,
     blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 
The sun shall be turned to darkness
   and the moon to blood,
     before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death,because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For 

David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; 
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   moreover, my flesh will live in hope. 
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One experience corruption. 
You have made known to me the ways of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
   nor did his flesh experience corruption.” 
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand, 
   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” 
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

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A Surprise Gift 

The Holy Spirit enables us to be effective witnesses for Jesus.

Peter was the first example of how the Holy Spirit can completely change a person. He went from being an impulsive
deserter to a persuasive leader. The Holy Spirit gave Peter insight into God’s Word, a keen understanding of God’s plan,
uncommon courage and power, plus a supernatural effectiveness in ministry (2.40, 41). Those are the traits of a Spiritempowered


The Time For Waiting Is Over

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble at St Martin's on Christmas Eve 2012

The time for waiting is finally over!

Angels sing of great joy for all people and shepherds race to the small town of Bethlehem to a barn behind the village inn.   Inside they discover a newborn child of peasant parents lying in an animal’s feeding trough.  As unlikely as it would appear to the ordinary person, these shepherds who are working the midnight shift see a wonderful miracle of God.  They return to their sheep celebrating and praising God with great enthusiasm for what they had seen.
  • This was not big news in Jerusalem that night.
  • The great Roman Empire missed it.
Yet this is the event that evokes cries of joy and celebration from the lips of kings and prophets of Israel throughout the ages.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you...   For a child has been born for us, a son given to us...  Isaiah 9:3&6

O sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth...   Psalm 96:1

The writer of the New Testament letter Titus reflects back on the event and points to the reason for the joy and celebration.  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all...
And today, 2000 or so years later, we too come to celebrate the birth of a peasant child who was born in a stable.

And who was this child who was born to parents so poor and so without influence or connections that they could not manage a simple room for a mother in labour?

The prophet Isaiah tells us who the child is, but can we believe it? 

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named,
Mighty Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 6)

Surely there is some mistake here!

How can One so great even visit such a place as a barn in a second class town in a third rate nation -- much less be born there.  And placed in a manger -- a feeding place for lowly animals?
Surely a mistake has been made!

Where are the heralding trumpets?  The dancing maids and cheering throngs?   Why has the whole nation of Israel not turned out for the celebration?  Why do angels and choirs from heaven to lowly shepherds -- common labourers -- make an earth shattering announcement and sing anthems from the gates of heaven?

What in the world is God thinking?

If you were in charge, would not a Mighty Counsellor have at least a suite in a four star hotel?
I know that I would find the best room in town for the coming of a child a prophet had called "Mighty God and Prince of Peace." Even if there was a chance that prophet was wrong -- would we not err on the side of gaining the favour of such an important child and his parents?
One thing I am absolutely sure of.  If a real, honest to goodness Prince of Peace came to our Walsall today, I am sure there would be an incredible gathering of the most important people in town. And if that Prince of Peace for any reason did not have a place to spend the night -- is there anybody here who doubts that the finest suite in the area would be cleared out without delay?

And do you think for one little moment that the "movers and shakers" in Walsall would make haste to announce the coming of this Prince to the third shift workers over in the factories?
I wonder. Would they send someone to tell you about the coming of this Prince? Would I be included?

What in the world was God thinking?

We gather to celebrate a story that touches our hearts at the core.

Mary and Joseph make the long journey by donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary is going to have a baby and the mean old innkeeper won’t give them a room. Jesus is born in the barn behind the inn and placed in a manger. His entourage and adoring guests are shepherds and animals.

It’s a story we love. And yet… would you want these circumstances for your daughter and grandchild? And if you think about all of this for very long, the question will seem so very natural.

What in the world was God thinking?

There is a clue in Luke where the shepherds are out in the fields going about their shepherding in the night when an angel from God showed up and the blazing white light of the glory of God lit up the landscape. Luke tells us the shepherds, "…were terrified…" The old King James version has the familiar, "and they were sore afraid."

The words used to describe the shepherd’s experience are from the Greek words "mega" and "phobos". What the shepherds felt was "mega fear!"  Fear that rates as "big time fear!"
Here’s the clue into what God is thinking by sending the Prince of Peace to the place and through the people in our scripture. When the shepherd’s were quaking in their boots and covering their eyes from the brightness of God’s glory, the angel says, "Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people."

The Lord God wants you and me to know that Jesus has come to bring us good news of God’s love and grace. He brings salvation, not condemnation – renewal, not retribution. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not of punishment. God wants us to rejoice in, not hide from, the glory of heaven.

And just how does God approach us with this amazing and life changing news?

The One Isaiah calls, "Mighty Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace," becomes absolutely, totally, 100% vulnerable!

Can you get your head around this amazing truth? The heart of the celebration we share at Christmas tonight is the truth that the God who came to us in the birth of Jesus is…

The God who is vulnerable!

The whole Christian message begins with…
·         Parents who are poor.
·         A mother in labour with no place to go.
·         A newborn child with no crib for a bed.
·         Visitors who come to see the child who have no influence.

So you see, there is no reason for fear. There is no barrier to overcome. No person is too poor, or too uneducated, or too insignificant to come to the Christ child who is sent by the God who is vulnerable.

Such a wonderful truth can only be contained in an open, receiving, adoring heart.

I’d like to end with words by John Harvey
On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?
‘I know the cares and the anxious thoughts of your hearts.
I know the hard times you often give yourselves.
I know the hopes and ambitions that you have for yourselves and for others.
I know your doubts, too – even while you seek to express your belief.
On this night, I want to find a way of saying to you:
You are deeply, deeply loved,
Just as you are,
Forgiven, loved and challenged to be
The very best you can be.
So I’m speaking to you in the only way I know how –
From a stable,
In a child born into poverty,
Soon to grow to maturity,
Born to show you,
In a human life,
The love of God.’

O come – let us adore him!