Thursday, August 15, 2019

Partners in the Gospel: Being Christ-like in a Catfight (Philippians 4:1-3)

This is a message I preached a couple of years ago and have reworked for a new setting.... However it is also one that there is now an audio recording of... here is the link if you wish to hear as well as read... partners in the gospel being Christ like in a cat fight

How you deal with conflict has really stepped to the fore on the world stage. Trade wars between the US and China, the gulf between left and right, progressive and conservative, widening and becoming more vociferous, ongoing racial tensions in our increasingly multi-cultural context, trolling on the internet… trying to have dissenting voices disenfranchised, silenced or written off as hate speech… people struggle to deal with and resolve conflict.

The Church is a very human institution and has been full of all these kinds of conflict as well. Big conflict and even conflict over the most trivial of things… (the perfect worship service)… The challenge is that our witness to Jesus Christ in the world around us really suffers if we can’t resolve our conflicts peaceably. It is part of the hope we can bring to our hurting world, it is part of our ministry of reconciliation that Paul talks of in 2 Corinthians 5. In the passage, we had read today, Paul deals with a conflict between two people in the church at Philippi, two church leaders whose falling out is having an adverse effect on church unity. Paul’s response gives us some helpful insights on conflict resolution: The hope for peace by being Christ like in the midst of a catfight.

We are working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, a letter he has written to thank them for support and financial assistance while he is in prison. A letter where he takes the opportunity to encourage his readers to stand firm, kia kaha, in the face of opposition from without and trouble within, to stand firm as partners in the gospel,. For Paul this standing firm is not teeth gritted, white knuckle hanging on for dear life rather it is knowing the fullness of Joy, rejoicing… a word he uses sixteen times in this epistle, fullness of Joy in Jesus Christ. Encouragement not just for his readers then and there but also for us here and now.

This section starts with a therefore, which connects it back to what has gone before but also signals a change. Paul now applies all he has said in this letter so far to a very specific situation. A conflict between two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, that is really starting to rachet up and putting the church under some strain. 

We don’t know what the conflict between these two women is, it could be theological as Paul had  talked of the false teaching of the Judaisers,  maybe one of them was starting to be prone to this ‘Christ Plus” teaching. Way back at the beginning of his letter he had talked of people having different reasons and motives for sharing the gospel, they may have had a conflict over how the gospel was to be done in Philippi. It could have been personal we don’t know. But it was effecting the Church, because these women were in leadership roles. Paul addresses them as co-workers who had contended at his side for the gospel, along with a person named Clement who we only meet in passing here. We know that they have suffered for the gospel because Paul tells us their names are written in the book of life, which in scripture is used to talk of people who have faced persecution.
Before we look at conflict resolution it is important to look at Euodia and Syntyche, because they are part of what Gordon Fee calls the “mute” evidence of women in leadership in the New Testament. It’s important that we hear their story.

Firstly, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Women in leadership in the church at Philippi. Macedonia was one of the only places in the ancient world where women were accepted into the public realm, they owned property and contributed to public life and the economy. Statues in Macedonia have been found honouring women for their contribution. The Church at Philippi started with Lydia, a women of great means who was a saler of purple cloth. Lydia becomes a believer and leader in the Church, at least its patron, as a rich woman she would have had a house where a large group could gather and meet.  The next story of Paul’s time in Philippi recorded in acts is where Paul delivers a women who is being exploited for money as a fortune teller. The church at Philippi starts as a women’s story.  

We don’t know the details of Eoudia and Syntyche’s story but we do know they were involved in evangelism with Paul.  Sadly with the church becoming more and more an institution after the first two centuries, it become male dominated and their stories got lost. In fact early translations of Paul’s letter from the Greek actually put a masculine ending on these Greek names. The translators were not comfortable with women in leadership roles in the church. It’s the same as in Romans 16 where many women are mentioned and for centuries Junia which is a women’s name and who is said to be outstanding amongst the apostles had her name changed to have a masculine ending. It is a great blight on the Church that they moved away from this acceptance of women in leadership, that they came to reflect the culture around them rather than the gospel and the example of people like Paul and the Church at Philippi. It is only recently that we have begun to change, it’s a continuing blemish that there is still a long way to go.

Paul didn’t have these issues, yes there are texts that need to be wrestled with like Timothy 2:11-15 which has been used to deny Women the ability to teach and lead in Church, but from Philippians and Romans and Acts we see Paul valued and loved his women co-workers. In the passage we are looking at today it seems the church leadership was a balance of men and women. The way he deals with the conflict that they are having reflects the high regard he has for them. He does not put them down for their conflict, suggest it’s because they are women, in fact we know from Acts that Paul himself had had a conflict with his co-worker and his mentor Barnabas over the suitability of John Mark to go with them on the missionary trip that lead to Paul going to Philippi, we have evidence that while he was in prison that conflict was resolved as in 2 Timothy 2, he asks Timothy to bring John Mark with him when he comes as he is useful to me. We know from Ephesians 2 that Paul had had a conflict with Peter as well that had threatened the Christian witness and had to be resolved. Paul knows from painful personal experience about the impact that conflict can have on the witness of the Gospel.

That leads us back to conflict resolution.

The first thing to note is that Paul’s motivation for the resolution for this conflict is his love for those involved and his commitment to a higher common good. We saw it in the way he addresses the church at the start of this passage. He Calls them brothers and sisters, the basis of their unity is that they we are family through the life and death of Jesus Christ. He calls them beloved; in the NIV it’s translated “you whom I love and long for”, unity is not just based on a theology reality but personal affection. Both of which combine when Paul says he sees them as his ‘Joy and crown’, they are the proof of the gospel’s effectiveness through him. Having a common higher good, the gospel and unity in Christ, and a commitment to the good of those involved, that we love one another as Christ has loved us, provide the motivation for us to resolve our conflicts.

Paul deals with the problem in a timely manner, it’s not left to get worse and worse. The breakdown of their relationship hasn’t got to the point where Paul has had to speak to the church about factions as he had to the church in Corinth, where they were even taking each other before civil courts. Paul’s teaching in chapter 2 on grumbling and arguing may have been a reference to the effect this conflict was starting to have and that it was bubbling away under the surface.

To the Church at Ephesus Paul had given the command not to let the sun go down on their anger, but to seek to be reconciled. Athletes will talk about muscle memory, that by continually repeating actions that the body then does them automatically, by reflex. The heart is a muscle as well and if we keep turning away from someone we are in conflict with that action can become instinctive. In Exodus it talks of pharaoh hardening his heart, over and over again refusing to let the people of Israel go. Then finally it says God hardened his heart. That hardening of heart leads to greater and greater disaster for pharaoh and his people. We need to deal with conflict in a timely manner.

Paul does not take sides or associate blame in this conflict. He treats each women the same. He address the two women individually and identically. I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche. There is an impartiality which hopefully enables them to hear what he has to say. In conflict resolution that impartiality is important. People will remember the all blacks touring South Africa back in the bad old days when there was always a  South African ref, it was said they were up against sixteen people on the field. When dealing with conflicts maintaining impartiality, and love and respect for each party is important.

Paul’s plea to them is that they might have the mind of Christ. He had articulated what he meant by that, that Christ while being equal with God, did not deem it something to be held onto, but emptied himself and took on the nature of a human being, became a servant, obedient even unto death, death on a cross. In conflict resolution Paul is not giving them an answer rather he is pleading with them to adopt an attitude or posture where the issue can be resolved and the relationship mended. In a marriage, even a good marriage, there is that uncomfortable silence after an argument, which ironically seems just so loud, and no-body is prepared to start the healing process. “I’m right! I’m not going to say sorry, I’ve done nothing wrong…” where it needs someone to go first for the sake of the relationship. Not to always simply give in but start the process of talking again and getting it sorted. I love the illustration from the marriage course of sitting together on the couch and getting the issue out on the table in front of you, not between you.

The other thing that Paul does in this situation is he asks a person, whom we simply know as the true companion, to help these women be reconciled. When we are in conflict it’s hard to see the way forward and it is often in those situations that we need a third party to facilitate, mediate. It is easy to want to come in with an answer and a solution, but that probably has more to do with our personality rather than what is needed. The picture from scripture that fits here is what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit… the councillor, the advocate, the friend with legal training who comes alongside. We need people who are willing to train in mediation and reconciliation. The blessed peacemakers of the beatitudes. The ultimate example of a mediator for us is Jesus Christ… who reconciled us with God. 

One of the most frustrating things about biblical scholarship is we only get a glimpse into the life of the early Church, we are left wondering about the outcome of this conflict, just as we are unaware of the substance of this conflict or the name of the person who is asked to help out. But that leaves the story open for our story. We can find ourselves in this story. Alongside Euodia and Syntyche in conflict with relationships tearing or broken, we can hear Paul's Plea to adopt the mind of Christ. But all of us can hear Paul’s plea to be a true companion, to be the Holy Spirit’s agent to come alongside and help, to be a peacemaker. Our witness is not to be perfect but to stand firm in our faith, which does not mean an absence of conflict but that we cope with it, not just in a peaceful way but a Christlike way.  That is a witness that can then speak to the wider issues of this world.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

partners in the gospel: Rejoice in the Lord as we press on together towards the prize (Philippians 3:1-21)

here is an audio link to this sermon (the last minute of the sermon is not on the recording... sorry) 

We are working our way through Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. A letter he wrote to thank them for their ongoing support and care for him, as he is in prison in Rome. It’s a letter where he calls them to stand strong, kia kaha, as they face external opposition and internal strife. A letter where he calls them to be partners in the gospel with him, not just with the support they give but by living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A letter where Paul uses the word rejoice sixteen times to remind his readers and us that this partnership in the gospel, despite the struggle and hardship is a source of great joy. Joy that comes from unity, and in the chapter we are looking at today Joy that comes from knowing and being known by Jesus Christ. That the church and we should rejoice in your union with the Lord…

In this chapter, Paul warns the church against a group of false teachers, known as the Judiezers, a group going round and insisting that for gentiles to be true followers of Jesus they need to be circumcised and keep the Jewish law, all of it including the dietary requirements. They want to add these things that we can do, human endevour, to what God has done for us in Christ. This chapter is helpful for us today as church history is resplendent with groups at different times and places who would try and add something to what Christ has done for us. Add something extra to the gospel that we must do or have to be put right with God. That instead adds value, but really robs us of the joy of knowing and being known by Jesus Christ, the wonder of the gospel that we are saved by grace alone, by Christ alone.

 We meet this group in Acts 15:1 where they descend on the Church in Antioch, which was the first center of Gentile Christianity, and that the whole Church had a major meeting in Jerusalem, the first ever general Assembly, or council,  to discuss the issue and we read they, inspired by the Holy Spirit, decided that gentiles did not have to be circumcised or keep the law to be followers of Christ, to be saved, that was only through faith in Jesus Christ, as an outworking of that they did need to abstain from food sacrificed to idols and from sexual immorality. Paul had been an important speaker at that meeting and was asked to take those findings to the churches he had founded. But the judiazers kept trying to spread their message. Paul had to counter it in his letter to the Galatians and he is concerned that they are about to arrive in Philippi. He writes to safeguard the church against them.
And I want to look at what he has to say through the lens of three metaphors or illustrations, that come out of the text themselves.

The first is an inorganic rubbish collection.

I don’t think you have them in Whangarei… but I have vivid memories of them in Auckland. Once a year the city council would invite people to put all the rubbish that they couldn’t put in the normal rubbish collection out to be picked up. For a couple of weeks outside every home, along every street would be a pile of junk. Broken furniture, once treasured possessions now tarnished and broken, toys, abandoned projects that just never got finished, building material, broken appliances and electronics. They would sit there and eventually a truck would come and take it off to the dump. Not the most ecologically sound thing I know. There was some recycling that happened, out west we used to call it shopping. People would drive round and spot something they might find useful and grab it. I have friends who kitted out their house bus from the inorganic. More recently all the metal would miraculously disappear overnight, as people scrounged it to sell for scrap.

Paul uses the metaphor of wild dogs to talk of the judizers, who he writes about them you could imagine him banging his fist on the desk as he wrote… wild dogs… evil doers… mutilators of the flesh… in first century cities food scraps would be thrown out onto the street and wild dogs would fight over it.

Paul says that of anyone he had the right to have confidence in the flesh. More than the judizers he could have confidence in what the judizers were telling people. He had done the ceremony’s, he was circumcised on the eighth day, he had the whakapapa, he was of the tribe of benjimin, the tribe that had stayed loyal to the Davidic kings when Israel had split into the northern and southern kingdoms, after the reigh on King Solomon. In fact his birth name was Saul, after the first king of Israel, Saul, a benjimite. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, even though he had been born in the gentile city of tarsuas, his family had kept their language, and customs and strict religious observance. Unto the law he was a Pharisee, the strictest group within Judaism when it came to keeping the law, Paul says he had been stringent in keeping the law, faultless even, and as to zeal a persecutor of the Church. It’s like he is putting these things in a spread sheet, a ledger. Then Paul says all these things add up to nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ, and being known by Christ. There is not profit in them.  They have no value compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. The righteousness I managed to achieve was negligible, nothing compared to the righteousness that I receive, that we receive from Christ, from God… This other stuff we’ll it rubbish you take it out to the curb and dump it.  The Judizers were scavenging this junk and trying to drag it back and make out it was treasurer, like dogs wagging their tail because they’ve found a bone in the leftovers.

In verse 10 and 11 Paul sums it up by saying he wants to know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection, to participate in his suffering become like him in his death and somehow attain ing to the resurrection from the dead. His life his purpose, his hope joy was in knowing Christ. His whole life says Paul is shaped and guided by Christ’s life and love for us. His suffering a reflection of the redeeming grace of Christ, his death a witness to Christ, his life now made possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection hop of new life and creation we can know know, and that was his future hope, that he would be raised to life with Christ, because Jesus had been raised to life again.

The second illustration is that of an Olympic athlete, 

There whole life is focused and geared towards one goal, one prize, winning the Olympic gold medal. In fact I saw a usain Bolt quote this week where he says “ I trained for nine years, nine years  so I could run under 10 seconds, and people give up after two months because they don’t see reults” which sums up that dedication. And  in a race if you are always concerned about what is behind you and turning your head to look at it, you are not going to be concentrating on doing your best and winning the prize. This is the metaphor behind what Paul says in verse 12-15.

Paul must have been a sports fan because he often uses that analogy with people. I can imagine Him and Timothy going to the games when they were in Corinth… So here Paul talks of his own life and says that knowing Christ is the prize, the goal, and he is aware that he has a long way to go in that relationship, so he forgets what is behind him and strives to attain the goal. Not to earn his salvation, but to grasp hold of Christ because Christ has got hold of him, It is in response to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, that Paul says he and we should focus our lives on knowing and being known by Christ.  There is that cheesy cliché in romantic comedies, when the two lovers spot each other, maybe at a train station as one is about to walk away, or at the airport or across a crowded room, and they run towards each other. Their eyes fixed on each other… Paul says his life is like that.

He encourages his readers at Philippi and us to do the same thing. To focus our lives on Christ like an athlete. To live up to what we have already obtained. Not to get distracted or side tracked by other things. It’s easy to do… As the writer to Hebrews says “let us run the race with our eyes fixed onn Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of our faith.”

The third illustration come from the world of art.

I don’t know if many of you will know the name Karl Sim. He is a well-known New Zealand artist who died in 2013 at the age of 89. When I say well known I don’t mean famous rather infamous. You see Carl Sim is possibly New Zealand most well known art forger.

In one interview he gave there was a list of well over fifty famous painters whose work he had forged. They were the ones he could remember.  He came to notoriety in the mid 1980’s when he was convicted on forty charges of forging Goldie and Petrus van der Veldun paintings. He was fined $1,000 and made to paint the Foxton town hall and public toilets as part of his 200 hours community service. Not paint a picture of them but paint the buildings physically themselves. He changed his name to Carl Feodore Goldie so he could legitimately sign his Goldie paintings without fear of prosecution. When he moved up to Orewa an antique dealer bought his Foxton flat and made it into an antique shop called Goldie’s Junk n’ disorderly so that Goldies memory would live on in the town. In one of his last Orewa shows there was a rather well-done Mona Lisa signed by C F Goldie.

It’s interesting that copying great artists and their works wasn’t considered a crime until art work became such an expensive commodity. It was rather seen as a way for budding artists to learn their craft. To learn the technique and brush strokes of the masters and so get better. When they tried to  pass off their copies as the real thing  it stopped being learning and became fraud. However George Bernard Shaw says “imitation is not just the greatest form of flattery it’s the sincerest form of learning”. In the last section of Chapter three Paul tells his readers new believers in a fledgling church to imitate him as the way to forge ahead to Maturity in Christ.  To join together in following his example…his model.  AS he clarifies in 1 Corinthians 11:1 you should imitate me as I imitate Christ…

Paul sets his life out not as an example of being perfect, he is the first to acknowledge that he hasn’t yet made it, he has not yet obtained. But rather that his life was focused on Christ, and was lived out of the Hope that Christ was at work in him, and focused on the Kingdom of God, now and in its future fulfillment, not on earthly things. He calls us to do the same.

We tend to think of Paul as this great spiritual giant, but you have to realise at this stage he wasn’t really seen as a great success, He was in prison in Rome, he was facing possible death, he was having to be supported by the churches, and he was also under attack from people like the judisers, who were trying to discredit him. His example is hat faithful adherence to the gospel, to the hope that can be found in Christ alone.

The judisers may look like they are successful, but putting their faith in their own achievements and religiosity and what they do rather than in what Christ has done for us, may bring them some measure of prosperity and success in this world, but in the long run it will lead them to destruction. Paul rather focuses on Christ trusting that we are citizens of his Kingdom know amidst the suffering and hardship and that he can be trusted to transform us and bring everything under his control.

People let us rejoice in the Lord. It is because of Jesus Christ, his life death and resurrection that our sins are forgiven and that we have been bought into a new relationship with God. It is Christ alone. People let us rejoice in the Lord, let us find our meaning and purpose and goal and prize in the surpassing greatness of knowing and being known by Christ. Let us rejoice in the lord, by forging ahead to spiritual maturity, allowing Christ to do his work in us… lets pray.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Partners in the gospel: a united team (Philippians 2:12-30)

Photo by Steve Harper
for audio of sermon here is the link...

Like the students from North Tech I’m new to Whangarei… we’ve been here for about two months. One of the things I noticed coming here and really love, is that at night when you are outside you can look up you see the stars. Unless of course it’s cloudy and raining then when you go outside and look up you only get a wet face. In Auckland where we lived for the past decade you still saw stars but the night sky was diminished by the bright lights of the city, what has come to be known as light pollution. If you’ve grown up here or in the countryside you may not relate to the wonder of seeing the stars more clearly as special, but it is.

I worked with students in Auckland one of them was Adrianne. She had grown up in Hong Kong and she told us she had never seen the stars at night until she came to Auckland… I think if she’d come to study in Whangarei it just might have blown her mind. In the reading from the bible we had today  Paul says that if the Christians he is writing to can work together without grumbling and arguing, if they can show themselves to be a group of people who really care for each other then they will shine like the stars in the darkness around them.

Now in our services in Hope Whangarei we’ve been working through a book of the bible called Philippians, which is a letter written to the first ever church on the continent of Europe, written by its founder the apostle Paul. It’s called Philippians because the church was in the city of Philippi in Macedonia. Paul was writing from prison in Rome, he was in chains for his faith in Jesus Christ, and was writing to the church to thank them for their ongoing support for him, and to encourage them to stand strong Kia Kaha in their faith as they faced opposition from outside the church. But also he was writing to a church where there was some internal strife and conflict and he was writing to teach them how to be partners together in the gospel. How they could work together in unity.

We can tend to forget that the church was something new and radical and different, it was people from all different walks of life and background gathering together to be a new people and family because they had come to believe that Jesus was the messiah, that Jesus was Lord; they had come into a new relationship with God, through Jesus life death and resurrection. Philippi was a good example of that from what we know of the planting of that church in the book of Acts(acts 17), it contained Jew and gentile, and people from all the different strata’s of society, a slave girl a rich independent merchant, a roman prison guard and his family. Kind of like with us this morning they were bought together from all over and we’re working out how to be united in Christ. In first century roman society they would have treated each other with disdain, Jew and gentile, and according to where they fitted in a very rigidly hierarchical society but now their being together was to reflect the love of God for the world shown in person of Jesus Christ.

Paul had told them the way to do that was by not focusing on their own wants and needs but to consider the other person before themselves: to have the mind of Christ, of Jesus. Who being in the very nature God, did not consider it something to be taken advantage of but rather emptied himself and became a servant, in human form and was obedient unto death even death on a cross. That attitude of self-sacrificial love that is the very nature of God, is to be the guiding principle for being a church together. Now with the word ‘therefore’ Paul turns to talk of how that attitude can be lived out in practical terms.

Out of love for his dear friends, Paul encourages them to “continue to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good Purpose”. The Christian faith is not about working to earn God’s love or our salvation, neither is it having to live a certain way to appease an angry God. Salvation, being bought into a right relationship with God, is first to last the work of God. In Jesus God became a human being, he lived as one of us, in his death on the cross, he paid the price for all that we had done wrong, that separate us from God, his being raised to life again, is the promise of new life and new creation that we can know in our lives. As we come to acknowledge that, God dwells in us by the Holy Spirit and works in our lives to fulfill God’s good purposes. How we live and how we treat others and deal with conflict is an outworking of that.

Some people have seen Paul’s use of the words fear and trembling here as meaning, that some how we are afraid that we are going to lose that salvation, or that we live in fear of God. But it is like in the Old Testament, where fear means respect and awe of God and his love for us, his action and what he has done in Christ. The Ten Commandments are often seen as simply God’s set of rules  for us a list of do not’s…or else, however they are prefaced in the book of exodus with the story of God delivering his people out of slavery and oppression… God’s faithfulness and salvation. They are then ways that we can live out that love that God has shown us in our community together. We live out of the grace and love and salvation we have received from God…Jesus Sums it up in John 13:34-35 by saying “love one another as I have loved you.” And Paul is inviting us to work out how to do that.

He gets down to the issue at hand. He encourages his readers to do everything without “grumbling or arguing”… which does not mean that there will not be conflicts, it’s how we deal with them that is important. The Greek word that we translate word grumbling and arguing or complaining is very rare in the New Testament, but in the Greek translation of the Old Testament it is used to describe the people of Israel in their wilderness wandering complaining about Moses and all the difficulties that they were facing.

 Grumbling and arguing has more to do with how we are feeling about an adverse situation or a problem rather than actually dealing with it, actually solving the problem. It’s a behind the back thing a murmuring in the background, not bringing it out into the open to find a way forward trusting God. The key thing that the people of Israel did in the wilderness was grumble about their leaders, question the direction they were taking them in. Many scholars have seen the second part of our reading this morning about Timothy and Epaphroditus, being Paul having to deal with one of the things there were rumblings and grumblings about. People were questioning Epaproditus as a leader which had either caused his illness, or because of his illness the he was unable to carry out the mission and ministry they had sent him to do. Paul affirms him and fills them in on the details, he sets them straight. They may even have been concerned that Paul was sending Timothy, instead of coming himself.  They were getting young untried timid Tim, not old experienced Paul who they knew and loved… and Paul affirms Timothy’s calling, care for the church and his credentials.

I’ve lead the Alpha marriage course a couple of times, and one of the most useful things I found was when Nicky and Sila Lee talk of solving issues in a marriage. They use the analogy of arguing about something being like a couple sitting on the couch with the problem between them separating them, and that that is unhealthy, things don’t get sorted, and can fester and ruin a marraige. Whereas they suggest the way to deal with conflict is to sit together on the couch, and with the problem out on the table in front of you. Out in the open so it can be dealt with and the problem solved by people working together.

The key thing for Paul was the Church holding on to the word of God, holding on the gospel truth, keeping the main thing the main thing. Often grumbling and arguing takes our attention off that.  Paul however says if they could do that he would be proud of them, t5hey would be his boast. Even though he was facing death, which he saw as martyrdom, dying for his faith, that he would have joy knowing that they too were able to rejoice in the gospel lived out in unity.

In fact Paul says that living in that way they would shine like stars in a generation that were struggling to know how to love one another. And in our broken and fragmented world, our multi-cultural, fractured and divided world struggling with how we can live together, if we can push past simply tolerating each other to this genuine togetherness and unity in Christ it will be a shining light for the world. For Paul as a Jewish man he would had psalm 8 in his mind as he used this metaphor. Because it speaks of the purpose of the vast array of the universe is to declare the glory and the greatness of God. We as a people in our love and community are called to do display that as well. If the gospel were a music he gospel is the lyrics and our lives working in unity is the tune that makes it catchy.

You know Paul would never have seen the star Alpha Centauri and its blue white companion Beta Centauri. Not because he lived in a big city and the stars were blocked out. Not because they are faint distant stars and you need a telescope to see them, in actual fact they are amongst the brightest stars in the night sky. But because he lived in the northern hemisphere. But if he had I’m sure that he would have had those two stars specifically in mind.

Because we know them as the pointers. They point us to the constellation known as the Southern Cross. You can always find the Southern Cross by finding these two bright stars. You students might want to do that one night. Our lives our community our attitude of having the mind of Christ our working together without grumbling and arguing and solving problems and issues together will point people not to the southern cross, but to the cross of Christ where they can find salvation healing and wholeness, community, family and unity in Jesus Christ. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

partners in the gospel: the one who has begun a good work in you... (Philippians 1:1-12)

if you would like to , listen to this sermon then here is the link to part 1   & part 2... as we have a limit on the data we can upload at the moment so it is done in two parts... 

I really enjoyed the launch service we had last week. It was a fitting culmination to a three year process of talking, praying, wrestling with and working through a new way for the Presbyterian Parishes up here in Whangarei to be church together. The work you have done… It was a fabulous way to launch Hope Whangarei, and celebrate our coming together, with fresh vision and vigor. 

It kind of feels strange doesn’t it, something’s have changed and
others seem to be exactly the same.  In an email to a friend this week I likened the process to a Microsoft windows update. You now it will happen and when it does you have that moment of anxiety, wondering if the whole system will simply crash, rather than update. In anticipation, you watch the circle of white dots going round and round on your screen, the only sign of activity as windows configures your update. When it’s done and launched, it oddly seems to be the same. Something’s have changed, something’s have been renamed and you can’t find them and there are new things, things that you didn’t even know you needed, some that you like and others you wish they hadn’t changed and you can guarantee their will be a glitch or two along the way … and then you get on with the work you use your computer for in this new environment. That’s Hope Whangarei, new and different, same and familiar, called to be, led by the spirit to be, getting on with the work of being the church and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

I really think we got off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to working with you at being and becoming that flourishing Christian community, that is intergenerational and missional, that is connecting people to God and to each other in Christ, that is our vision, that is our purpose.

Today we are starting a series of sermons looking at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, all three centers, congregations are going to be working their way through this letter, and the series is called partners in the gospel. In his opening prayer for the church which we had read today Paul says he gives thanks for the churches fellowship or partnership in the gospel (v3), their partnership in grace (v7), and I think it’s good for us as a church at this new juncture to explore what that means. What it means for us to be partners together in the gospel.

On one level Philippians is a letter that is kind of like the ones my mother made me write after Christmas or my birthday when I was a child.  You know the ones to say thank you to that mysterious array of distant relatives, that we hardly ever met, who had sent a card, sometimes with money tucked inside, a one or two or five dollar note or ten if we were lucky… and in those letters she’d make us tell auntie petunia or great uncle bob what class we were in at school and what we liked and what we did as a hobby. Paul is writing to thank the church for their continued ongoing support for him, in prayer and financially. Paul does fill them in on what is happening in his life. In fact Paul is in prison, and prison in those days was not a state supported institution, it was user pays, you had to provide your own food and support. So the financial gift from the church was a lifeline for Paul.

But Paul saw this gift and ongoing support, even when others had abandoned him, written him off as evidence of a deeper connection, a deeper commitment, that the church in Philippi, were indeed partners in the gospel. In the midst of great difficulty, and you can read about that in acts 17, they had come to faith in Christ, and amidst pressure from outside and amidst difficulties within they were seeking to be a people who in all they said and did and how they loved each other and even how they dealt with conflict, defended and confirmed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Philippians is a letter and the reading we had today is the formal greeting part of that letter, it follows the same structure as any personal letter that was written in the first century. It has an introduction, who it is from and who it is for. Then it has a greeting, and a brief prayer of thanksgiving, and a prayer wishing the best for the person being written to. In the pagan first century they would have been offered to the gods. But Paul takes this formal part of the letter and he transforms it. He infuses it with theological depth, and Christian warmth and uses it to preface and introduce what he is wanting to share with the church at Philippi… and with us…as we read it …two thousand years later and a whole half a world away.

Let’s work our way through the passage and see what it does have to say to us.

Firstly the introduction, Paul uses this to speak of the fact that he and the people he is writing to are partners in the gospel because they, we belong to Christ Jesus. He identifies himself and his offside Timothy as servants or slaves of Christ Jesus. He writes to all the believers in Philippi acknowledging them as God’s holy people in Christ. People who have been set aside in Christ and for Christ. First and foremost we are partners in the Gospel because of what Jesus the messiah has done for us. It is because of Christ, his life, his death his resurrection that we are bought together.

 I don’t think it’s going overboard but in writing to all the believers Paul is affirming that catch cry of the reformation, which we are a priesthood of all believers, we are all bought into that relationship with God through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is affirming the understanding of the body of Christ that came about because of the charismatic renewal, that we are a ministry of all believers. We have all been given a gift and a part to play. It resonates with what is a developing understanding of the church, that we are all called to be missionaries together, partners in sharing the gospel in our time and place.

The other thing that this introduction does is that it expresses the humility and servant nature of leadership in the Christian faith. Paul identifies himself and Timothy as servants of Christ, it is a title that he uses in most of his letters. In addressing the church at Philippi he acknowledges all the believers first and then also the overseers and deacons. Not as an afterthought but to acknowledge that those roles are servant roles. This foreshadows Paul’s plea to the church in chapter two to have the humility and the mind of Christ, shown in Christ’s incarnation his own servant attitude and his death on a roman cross. When I was growing up in my home church in Titirangi it was always printed on the front of the newsletter that the ministers were the congregation and ‘The minister’ was the assistant or servant to the ministers…

This being in Christ is reinforced in the greeting that Paul brings. He greets his hearers with grace and peace, that comes from our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of the grace of God that we are bought into a new relationship with him, that we are able to know and receive the pace of God in our lives.  The word peace comes from the Hebrew shalom and has the sense not of an absence of conflict, or that wonderful relaxed feeling you get when you just stop and rest. Rather it has the idea of wholeness, of a matrix of right relationships, with God, with the spiritual realm, with one another, with the created world, with our possessions. As we move on through the letter in Philippi Paul will focus on very practical ways in which the church can work on, having that peace with one another, by having the mind of Christ, by people who are in conflict in the church working at reconciliation, through a process that we would call sanctification, become more like Christ in the way we live.

Paul then turn and gives thanks for the church at Philippi, again his focus is on their coming to faith in Christ Jesus. He remembers that it hadn’t been an easy time, there had been riots and he’d been imprisoned as the gospel had been preached but those who had come to faith had been sincere and committed. He sees their ongoing love and support for him as a sign that this conversion to Christ had been genuine. It is by grace that we are put right with God through Jesus Christ, not because of who we are or what we do, but as we experience that grace, it should change us, it should transform us. Paul sees that generosity and sacrificial giving to support him, that willingness in a roman city to identify with someone sitting in a roman prison as a sure sign that their coming to Christ had been genuine. He assures them that he and they could have confidence that the one who had started a good work in them would bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. It is the same hope that we have that Christ is at work in us and will bring to completion the good work he has started in us.

Paul moves to pray for the church, that their love might abound more and more. He does not define what that means, except to say that it will grow through wisdom and insight. That it will be shown in ethical behavior what he calls fruits of righteousness. As we come to understand how much God has loved us in Christ, our love for God will grow. AS we come to understand how much God has loved us in Christ, our love for one another will grow. We will treat each other with forgiveness, respect and sacrificial concern. AS we come to understand how much God has loved in Christ our love for those who do not know Christ will grow, we will treat them with dignity and justice, will offer them compassionate service, and introduce them to the god who loves them.

I’m having one of Lorne’s Toblerone moments… seeing the church grow in upward, inward and outward dimensions.

Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi I believe is God’s prayer for us as a church as well, that our love might continue to grow and abound more and more, as we know Christ’s love more and more and we are given insight to the dimensions of that love and grace, and that it would abound more and more in our care and love for one another and in our care and concern for the city of Whangarei and beyond…

Last week before the service, I was very nervous, so I went out early into the garden at Glenys Curries, where we are staying at the moment, and took my camera to just do something to calm my nerves. Photography does that for me… While I was out there I took this photo of the dew on the branches of an ornamental cherry tree. Weeping cherry. Which I thought was a wonderful image of what God is doing with us here. For me it is a symbol of the trust in God to be able to bring to completion the work that he has begun. The tree had been pruned and shaped, and is in its winter condition, simply bear branches. But as you look at those branches you could see buds getting ready to break forth with spring growth, you could see this tree that has been there for a long time and is well established about to burst forth into new life. The one who has started a good work is able to bring it to completion. Is at work within us and through us to see our love grow with wisdom and insight. Calling us to be partners of the gospel together.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Prayer of thanksgiving and confession...

A female Blackbird sings in front of te matau a Pohe (the fish hook of Pohe) a bridge over the Hatea river in Whangarei

On Sunday we will be launching  Hope Whangarei. This is a new church which is an amalgamation of the three Presbyterian parishes in the city of Whangarei. I've just moved up to Northland to be part of this new adventure and this prayer is for the launch service... It reflects something of the beauty of the city and region. It is set in five groupings introduced by a two line heading and consisting of three stanza's with four lines followng this pattern  From... locating us in time and space, we... what is the action we are doing and for... the prayer itself... 

Almighty God
We praise you for the wonder of your creation

From our island home
We praise you for its unique flora and fauna
For bird song, kiwi call, gull swark
For delicate flower and giant forest kauri

From a city where we can look up and see the night sky
We thank you for the lights amidst the dark
For moon beam, star field and galaxy swirl
For the humbling vastness of the universe unfurled

From this Oceanside port
We give you thanks for the endless stretch of the sea
For rocky point and wave pounded sandy shore  
For quite Harbor beach, and mangrove lined inlet   

Loving  God
We praise you for your provision and care

From this place of fertile soil and temperate climate
We praise you for the bounty of sea and field
For food from orchard and garden
For the fresh water of rain and stream

From this city surrounded by hills
We thank you for your protection and keeping
For watching over our comings in and goings out
For guarding and guiding our footsteps

From the midst of our busy lives
We give you thanks that our times are in your hands
For being with us in all life’s stages and histories relentless march
For seeing us in our hour of need and drawing near

Father God
We praise you for mercy and grace

From standing here before the cross
We praise you for sending your son Jesus into this world
For his life and teaching to show the way
For new life in him for us, through his death and resurrection

From a church whose logo is the burning bush
We give you thanks for sending the fire of your Holy Spirit
For its leading and guiding, comfort and presence
For enabling and empowering us to live for, and witness to, Christ

From beside the Hatea river
We thank you for living water that flows through us all
For bringing us together today as one church Hope Whangarei
For your presence with us to bring healing and health to this place

Holy God
We come this morning and confess our sins

From the midst of our brokenness
We come to ask your forgiveness
For all that we have done wrong
For un love, hurtful word and action

From the midst of seeking our own comfort
We confess our inaction and neglect
For all the good we have left undone
For want ignored and love withheld

From being far off to being bought near
We thank you that you have heard our cry
For being faith and just
For forgiving us our sin and whipping the plate clean

God who is with us today
We pray that you would renew us again

From a place of being aware of our need
We pray you might fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit
For us to grow in the depth of our knowing
For us to grow in the depth of our love

From this time and place of new beginnings
May we know your presence to lead and guide
For us to come together as one church
For us together to share the hope we have in Christ

Here and now as Hope Whangarei
We ask you to help us serve you, each other and this city
For all people to come and know the love of Jesus Christ
For the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit


Monday, June 24, 2019

God can be trusted for the journey (Psalm 121)

This sermon is on line as a recording on the St Andrew's website... so feel free to listen to it. 

Today marks a significant step in the life and journey of the Presbyterian Church here in Whangarei.
If you could imagine going on a tramp, walking through the bush and coming to a fork on the track... three paths come together and unite for the way forward. That is where we are today.

Those tracks meet on a hill side, and from here we can see where we’ve come from and from here we can see where we have been, how we got here, and from here we can catch a glimpse of where we are going. That is where we are today.

So that’s a great place to stop and to look around and take stock; to remember the journey so far and those who have walked it with us.  To celebrate and commemorate what we have shared and achieved, before we turn and walk together the new track that is before us. That is what we are doing today.

In 1 Samuel 7 after a significant victory over the Philistines, but still with so many more challenges to come, the prophet Samuel raises a stone which he calls Ebenezer, which means “thus far God has helped us”. Today is an Ebenezer moment… it’s not an ending, it’s that remembering ‘so far God has helped us’. It’s the telling of the story of that help which gives us Hope as we turn and face the future, as we embark on the next phase of the journey together as one. As we start this new adventure, this new chapter following Jesus as one church.

It’s appropriate that our bible reading for today is Psalm 121. Because Psalm 121 is a song from the road. It is a pilgrim’s song. A psalm of ascent, part of a collection of psalms in the wider book that was used as pilgrims came to Jerusalem for one of the big festivals.

It’s a psalm that seems to fit right where we are at today. The Psalmist has been on this long epic journey, and the caravan he is part of stops for the night, and as the desert starts to cool the heat haze dies down there for the first time he can see the hills of Judea, there for the first time he sees his destination Jerusalem far off in the distance up the top of those mountains.

The journey is far from over, but here he or she is at this juncture. The road behind was long, full of highs and lows, good times and hard yards. The road ahead still seems long and difficult, if they were coming up through Jericho, then it was a dangerous route, Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan takes place on that road up to Jerusalem from the kings way in the Jordon valley, and it rang true for his hearers because of the danger of robbers and thieves.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like hills, I like being on top of them. Being new to Whangarei, I just love coming over the Brynderwyns and having your breath taken away as you see the mystical. almost otherworldly Whangarei heads dark green against the blue of the pacific.  But walking up hills, not so much.

But also for the psalmist there is a sense of anticipation and hope, of exhilaration… here is the destination that the pilgrim has been dreaming of has been working towards and journeying to, this is where God is calling them to go.  His vision and purpose is renewed.  Facing what lies ahead the psalmist says I look to the hills where does my help come from’

Almost in answer you could see the sun setting and the stars come out and the Psalmist looks up and realizes that beyond the mountains and even the stars that his help comes from the maker of heaven and earth. From the almighty creator of all there is.

Maybe, the spirit lead him to look and see the leader of the caravan, going about his tasks setting up the camp, cooking the dinner, establishing guards against the dark night, and The psalmist is reminded that God has been like that guide.

The psalm changes from first person to second person, here is God’s answer. All the way God had watched over them…  The way that the path has been planned and picked out even though rocky terrain and up steep narrow hill sides…The Lord will not let your foot slip… When the pilgrim slept someone kept watch… The Lord does not slumber of sleep… During the long desert journey they had been provided shelter… they slipped, slopped, slapped and slurped…and prevailed over the deadly desert sun…  At night they had  heard the howl of Jackel the roar of lion under the moon but were not harmed…The Lord watches over you… the sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night… All along God had guided and sheltered and cared for the pilgrim…

The Pilgrim psalmist remembers the words of blessing that they would have received as they left on this journey, and acknowledges that they could trust God for the rest of the journey.
“the Lord will keep you from all harm”
He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your comings and goings
both now and forever more.”

It’s almost as if he turns to the pilgrims who will follow and says, That God can be trusted for the whole of the journey.  It didn’t mean there wouldn’t be hard times and dark dangerous nights and hot desolate desert times, but God is there to see them through.

The psalmist turns to us and says we can trust in God’s keeping through the whole of life’s journey… It has spoken that hope into my life as my Mum asked me to read it at my father’s funeral, for her. It was read at her funeral as well… read as an affirmation of the Lord’s keeping and help.

Jesus would have known and used this psalm. Even on his last journey to Jerusalem, knowing that God could be trusted even though his path lead through the cross and that valley of suffering and death. But on to resurrection and new life and new creation and hope for humanity…

It is the story of the church down through history… Paul knew this psalm as well and you can hear it echoed in our new testament reading today, from the book of Philippians… “ we can have confidence that the one who has started a good work in you will carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus’.   

It is for us today… We look back and we see that God in Christ has been with us by the Holy Spirit and has kept us, has journeyed with us and been our help and our keeper. We are here now and we can see that Christ is with us, calling us on into a new Hope filled future and we can have confidence that God will continue to keep us, lead us, guide us. God watches over our goings out … our stepping through the door of farewell and change, and our comings in, that stepping out onto the new path and new journey and new adventure together…

I want to finish with a short clip from the film the Hobbit: an unexpected adventure, which encapsulates where we are at so wonderfully… Bilbo Baggins played by Martin Freeman, wakes up, realizes that his guests have left on their quest… takes one last look around his safe comfortable home Bag End and well let’s see what happens … (insert clip)

We can trust in God to keep us will you come on an adventure with me…

Lets pray


We thank you for all you have done and all you have lead us through that has bought us to this place and this time today.
For joy filled celebrations, for heart felt commemorations,
For your spirit’s presence, leading and guiding
We thank you for companions on the road,
Challenges faced and victories won
For growth and new life
For Christ glorified, in this place and through this people
Lead us onwards, in fresh vision and mission
Seeking God’s best for Whangarei and beyond
be our hope and our help watch over our comings and goings
now and forevermore