Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday 30 July 2017 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Wisdom. Kingdom of heaven. Understanding. Kingdom wisdom. Kingdom of heaven: priceless!

Sentence: All things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28)

Collect:

God of mercy,
you have blessed us beyond our dreams;
you have set before us promises and perils
beyond our understanding
help us to struggle and pray
that the perils may be averted
and your promises fulfilled. Amen.

Readings (related):

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Commentary:

1 Kings 3:5-12

Solomon has the world and its opportunities set before him but in his time and context there are three sought after possibilities, wealth, long life, or wisdom. He chooses the last and God is pleased to grant that to him.

In the gospel reading today, the kingdom of God offers a new way of life in which riches play no part and there may not be a long life, but true wisdom in the light of the coming of Jesus demands entry to the kingdom rather than its rejection.

Back to this reading: Solomon seeks wisdom in order to govern his country well. There must be something to say from this observation about the state of our world and about the choices we will make at our forthcoming NZ election!

Psalm 119:129-136

The psalmist shows a deep, passionate, intelligent appreciation for God's law through these verses. It is not just that God's 'decrees are wonderful' as decrees which govern life (129), they have power to do more for those who love God's law.

'The unfolding of your words gives light' (130a) and 'imparts understanding to the simple' (130b). Through reading and keeping God's law, the psalmist recognises that he is more able to understand the world and what is going on within it. The law provides wisdom and insight.

Realistically, the psalmist recognises that the words of the law do not by themselves empower him to keep the law: so he entreats God to help him to live rightly (133-135).

This passage is a good complement to Matthew 13:51-52.

Romans 8:26-39

Recalling last week's passage and comment, we remind ourselves that Paul is sequencing his way through several, related themes in this chapter, though always with an eye on the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer.

Here the themes are:
- prayer aided by the Spirit (26-27)
- the fulfilment of God's good purposes for those who love God (28-30) which anticipates the next and last section of the chapter in which Paul proclaims the unshakeable and unbreakable love of God
- God is on the side of God's people, not against them, demonstrated by 'not withhold[ing] his own Son' (31-32)
- there is no charge of sin against God's elect (33-34)
- nothing, absolutely nothing, not earthly powers nor heavenly ones, neither the fiercest opposition nor death itself can 'separate us from the love of Christ' (35-39).

This is a carefully worked out yet poetically expressed ending to this first part of Romans. The gospel indeed saves people and does more in the sense that it guarantees the salvation of people who respond to God's love for them in Christ with love for God through Christ, empowered by the Spirit of God who comes to dwell in believers.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

With this passage we complete the parables taught by Jesus as conveyed in this chapter of Matthew.

In each of the five parables 'the kingdom of heaven is like' something: mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a fine pearl, a net with all kinds of fish.

Our challenge, without interpretations provided for the parables (save that the interpretation in 13:36-43 would appear to applied to 13:47-50), is to understand what it means that the kingdom is 'like' something.

Without proposing that the following is an exhaustive set of interpretations, Jesus appears to be saying that the kingdom of heaven is:
- a growing phenomenon which starts small and becomes very large (mustard seed)
- a powerful influence working through the whole world (yeast)
- something utterly worth being part of and belonging to (hidden treasure, fine pearl)
- a bit messy because it grows and develops in such a way that both evil and righteous people are caught up in its life (fishing net).

Can we say with the disciples that we understand 'all this' (51)?

The passage finishes on a beautifully poetic note about scribes trained for the kingdom (52) who are also 'like' something - like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is old and what is new. But what does this mean? Who are 'scribes' in the kingdom (since we do not encounter these officials anywhere else in the gospels)?

A key word here is 'trained' which in the Greek means 'discipled'. Potentially 'scribes' could be all disciples, or scribes trained in the Law of Moses who are now discipled into the kingdom; or it could be one scribe in particular, Matthew who composes this gospel.

Either way, there is a strong hint here, as we recall Matthew 5:17-20, that Jesus is valuing continuity with all that is good in the past of Israel as well as asserting the value of what is now being taught through the parables of Jesus.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sunday 23 July 2017 - 16th Ordinary Sunday [also Social Services Sunday]

Theme(s):Grace, mercy and kindness. Hope and glory. Patience and eager anticipation. Suffering and hope. Life in the kingdom. Judgment.

Sentence: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

Collect:

God of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things,
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish in us all goodness,
and of your great mercy
keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings (related):

Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Commentary:

Isaiah 44:6-8

The choice of this reading looks ahead to a challenging (to understand) gospel reading. What God presides over a world in which the plan is to establish a kingdom for that God, yet an evil one is permitted to establish a rival kingdom? The prophet here acclaims the God of Israel as the one God of all the world ('besides me there is no god', 6, see also 8b).

For this God there is no question of a rival, not even an evil one sowing discord in the world.

Thus those who believe in the God of Israel do not need to be afraid (8).

Note a curious phrasing in 44:6, 'Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts.'

In part this is a condemnation of Babylonian claims about multiple gods controlling the world. No, says Isaiah, the LORD is the one God of all.

In another part, a seeming distinction between the LORD as the King of Israel and the LORD of hosts as 'his redeemer' anticipates the later christology in which the God of Israel is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of Israel's God, the Son of God.

Psalm 86:11-17

It is sometimes said of the Old Testament that one, single, unifying idea cannot be found within it, which 'organises' its contents. But there is one great idea, one substantive teaching which shines through many of its pages, and these verses give expression to it: God is 'merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness' (15).

It is the God of this kind of love who brings the parable to us in today's gospel reading: a God who withholds judgment rather than hastens it.

Romans 8:12-25

If I am a Christian then I have the Spirit of God living within me (8:1-11). Paul continues to spell out what this means for you and me as Christians.

Essentially, we are under obligation, 'we are debtors' (12), our obligation being to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh (13).

But thinking this way takes Paul on a theological journey as he links one thought to another thought. He will come back to the battle between flesh and spirit (23, 26) but he moves on this journey as follows:

- the Spirit of God is not 'a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear', rather it is 'a spirit of adoption' (15);
-under the Spirit as our spirit of adoption we cry out to God as 'Abba, Father' (15c) which is also testimony that we are 'children of God' (16, also 14);
- if we are children of God then we are 'heirs of God' which also means we are 'joint heirs with Christ' (17a);
- but that last thought raises a 'check in', have we suffered with Christ so that we may be glorified with him? (17b)
- suffering now may be compared with glory to come, with the latter far outweighing the former (18);
- but thinking of what is not yet leads to thinking about 'creation' waiting 'with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God' (19);
- in turn Paul offers a deep reflection on creation as that which currently is subject to 'futility' (20) while yet able to anticipate being 'set free from its bondage to decay and [obtaining] the freedom of the glory of the children of God' (21), with the sense that creation 'until now' 'has been groaning in labour pains' we ourselves are involved as we 'groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies' (22-23);
- such anticipation of a better, fulfilled future is hopeful, in fact, 'in hope we are saved' (24a) which could mean, 'in hope we see what one day will be but which is not yet our completed experience';
- thus as an aside we have a few words about 'hope' (24) and its application 'we wait for it with patience' (25).

What does all this mean for the Christian today?

I suggest at least this: Paul faces the reality that in the battle between spirit and flesh, between living for God and living for self, between achieving ideal holy living and failing to achieve it here and now, it is very tough for believers. We are in the same position as 'groaning' creation. We long for that which we want but do not yet have. Whether this is a matter of suffering in itself (i.e the suffering of patiently withstanding temptation and living rightly) or we suffer as Christians simply for being Christians as enemies persecute us, Paul urges us to 'hang in there'. Hope tells us we will get to the end. The glory in that day will outweigh present trials. Don't give up!

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

The reading as selected from Matthew 13 focuses on one parable and its interpretation (in parallel with last week's reading, and both parables have 'seed' as a common motif).

Note that if the full reading, 13:24-43, were followed then we would have three parables of kingdom growth (24-33), deliberately joined together in a sequence. Further (and paralleling a missing part Matthew 13 in last week's reading) we would have a brief explanation concerning teaching by parables (13:34-35; parallel, 13:10-17): Matthew is a very sophisticated literary artist!

So, with that in the background, let's look at the 'parable of the weeds'.

The core idea is easy to understand, especially with the aid of the provided interpretation: the kingdom of heaven (= kingdom of God) consists (in this life, on earth) of 'children of the kingdom' and 'children of the evil one' (37).

This fact of the kingdom is visible and gives rise to thoughts of a human solution (27-29). But the master of the kingdom, God directs patience and waiting: the separation of the children of the kingdom and of the children of the evil one will take place at judgment and will be handled by the angels (30, 39-42).

The application of the parable - at first sight, straightforward, Wait and leave judgement to God! - is one tricky matter, another concerns how the kingdom can include both kinds of 'children'.

Clearly, in practical terms, evil people need separating from non-evil people: a murderer should be imprisoned, a paedophile kept well away from children ... a heretic denied a pulpit and a thief kept off the church silver cleaning roster. It would be absurd to suggest the parable means that in specific instances of these kinds, whether thinking of society broadly or more narrowly of congregational life, we should just let people be and allow them to carry on their evil ways.

But, if that is so, are there other 'evil' people whom we can tolerate between now and judgment day? That sounds a bit absurd. Especially if we focus on the life of the congregational church: it is hard work putting up with evil people who (say) disrupt congregational harmony, damage people through (say) gossip and putdowns, manipulatively abuse power. Much easier to expel the troublemakers!

But two such absurdities perhaps will make us think, 'what is the kingdom in this parable?' Perhaps we shouldn't think so much about an equation between kingdom and church (as often Christians have done). Indeed, not far away in Matthew's gospel, chapter 18, we have Jesus giving instruction for how to manage discipline in the church. Further, the emphasis on the judgment in the parable and its interpretation is on final judgment ('furnace of fire,' 42), not the outcome of a church tribunal. So, what is the kingdom in view here?

A strong clue seems to be in verse 38, 'the field is the world.' Jesus has the whole world in view here and the spread of the kingdom of heaven through it. More than church congregational life is being considered in this parable. Life in the world, lived under the rule of God (i.e. the kingdom of heaven) involves the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one mixing together socially. The parable and its interpretation is a specific command for the kingdom children to refrain from attempting to carry out God's judgment (1) before it is due according to God's timetable, (2) when it is not the designated role of the children to do so.

What are children of the kingdom to do? The application is, in the end, plain for us: remain faithful to our calling as children of the kingdom, bearing grain (i.e. living fruitful lives for God) (26), avoid becoming weeds, refrain from playing the role of God as judge, patiently endure the presence of evil people in the world.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday 16 July 2017 - 15th Ordinary Sunday

Theme(s): The mission of Jesus / The multiplying mission of Jesus / Gospel fruitfulness. Set free by the Spirit. Victorious life in the Spirit.

Sentence: There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

Collect:

Almighty God,
in your Son Jesus Christ
you have created a people for yourself;
make us willing to obey you,
till your purpose is accomplished
and the earth is full of your glory. Amen.

Readings (related):

Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Commentary:

Isaiah 55:10-13

God's word (here, in context, God's covenantal promise to restore Israel from exile, see 55:3) is powerful in its purpose (it will achieve what it sets out to do) and purposeful in its power (it intends to do good). It will be fruitful - Israel will 'go out with joy and be led forth in peace' (12).

This same word is the word of the gospel as taught and proclaimed by Jesus (see gospel below).

Psalm 65:9-13

This is a lovely picture of God blessing the earth. The psalm is chosen to complement the gospel reading. As the word of God brings forth fruit in people's lives, its warmth, beauty and loveliness is illustrated by this parallel scene in nature. Over both kinds of fruitfulness God is the caring farmer!

Romans 8:1-11

This 'continuing' reading through Romans brings us into a great chapter which represents an important stage in Paul's argument through the whole epistle.

Through seven chapters Paul has been expounding the grace of God, a grace which includes Jew and Gentile, which covers every sin, and is freely available because of what Christ has done. So he begins this chapter, 'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (1) which is a fair summary of his argument to this point. But what now? What is Paul's next stage? What point does he now seek to make?

In part Paul continues a theme he has been developing through chapters six and seven: life in Christ does not mean continuing in sin in order for grace to abound, nor does it mean despair over continued sinning for a new way of life is available through identification in baptism with the death and rising of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless there is a new development, presaged in Romans 5:5 with mention of the Holy Spirit, in which Paul reminds his readers that the Holy Spirit is at work in them in the battle between doing good and doing wrong, between allegiance to God and allegiance to the sinful nature within them.

Effectively Paul repeats his argument through chapters six and seven but revises it to now talk about the Spirit of God and the work of the Spirit which every believer may expect and rely on.

Along the way Paul sets out some facts about the Holy Spirit. One is that the Spirit of God lives in each person who 'belongs to Christ' (9). No Christian should think they do not have the Spirit, and certainly no Christian should run around congregations suggesting that some members do not (yet) have the Spirit (but if you pray this prayer etc then you will have ...). Secondly there is no division in the working of God between Christ being in the believer and the Spirit being in the believer (9-10). Thirdly, the power available to the believer is the power of the one and same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead who now dwells within the believer (11).

Thus Paul, at the beginning of the section, can confidently teach that the Christian believer is able to be victorious in overcoming sin (1-4) because there is a new, lively power at work in us (2), enabling us to meet the requirements of the law in a way which the law itself is not able to do.

One way to summarise all that is going on through chapters 6-8 is this: Christians, be what you are!

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower

A challenge for the preacher this week is to take a very familiar passage and say something fresh from it!

Something to observe is that Jesus tells the parable when 'such large crowds gather round him' (13:2). It is as though Jesus is sizing up the crowd and telling them that they will not all be found faithful to the word he is teaching them. Even at a high point of 'success' for his movement, measured in terms of interested listeners, Jesus recognises the reality of life.

Between the parable (1-9) and the interpretation (18-23), what Jesus recognises is understandable in every generation, including ours. Some simply do not 'get' the gospel message (4, 19); some hear the message and respond joyfully, but the hearing has no depth and when trouble comes, they fall away (5, 20-21); some hear the word but their response is quickly choked out by the worries of this life and the deceitful claims of wealth - materialism trumps spirituality (6, 22); some hear, understand, with joy, deeply, without choking (7, 23).

What does the reference mean to the crop being produced hundred, sixty or thirty times was sown (8, 23)? We might investigate what this meant in terms of the agriculture of Jesus' day. But more relevant could be investigating what this meant in terms of Jesus' own mission.

If the starting point above is valid, that Jesus was seeing beyond the crowds to the few who would be faithful to his word, then the multiplying of the seed is about the value of the faithful few: they will take the word and multiply it, in terms of more faithful adherents around Israel and, later, throughout the world.

The very fact that you are reading this, that a congregation will hear your sermon this Sunday is testimony to what Jesus taught about the word. We are evidence of the multiplication!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sunday 9th July 2017 - 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Come to me / Father and Son / Lifting burdens / God's rescue from sin

Sentence: Come to me all you are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)

Collect:

Almighty God
you have made us for yourself
and our hearts are restless
till they find their rest in you;
so lead us by your Spirit
that in this life we may live to your glory
and in the life to come enjoy you for eve;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Readings (related):

Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Commentary:

Zechariah 9:9-12

Chosen to complement the gospel reading, this passage is certainly 'at home' on Palm Sunday. In today's gospel context it speaks of the 'gentle and humble heart' (Matthew 11:29) of Jesus.

Psalm 145:8-14

These verses are a perfect complement to the final verses of the gospel reading. Just as the Lord known to Israel is 'gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love' (8) and One who 'upholds all who are falling' (14), so the Lord revealed in the gospel passage is one who lightens the burdens of his people and gives them rest.

Romans 7:15-25a

The first sentence of the section below re the gospel reading applies in this section, swapping Jesus for Paul, also!

A recap: Paul has been arguing in preceding chapters that faith counts not works in respect of being counted among the righteous. The grace of God which enables this to be so, on the basis of Jesus Christ fulfilling all the sacrificial requirements of the Law, is not to be taken advantage of by living licentiously (chapter six). To do that would be to misunderstand the spiritual transformation which takes place through baptism into the death of Jesus.

In the first part of chapter seven Paul develops a sophisticated argument about the role of the law in our sinning, even asking the question whether the law is sin (7a). In part the argument is that the law has a role in sinning, because by naming what we should not do we then law what sin we might commit (7b) but in another part the argument is that sin is an enslaving power working within Paul, me and you, manipulatively taking even the good Law and making it have a role in our sinning.

Thus verse 14 captures the argument to the point immediately preceding the beginning of our reading: 'For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh sold into slavery under sin.'

Our reading is then an insight into how sin works within humanity.

The essence of the insight is that humanity, each human being has a divided inner being. There is an 'inmost self' (22) which delights in the law of God (22), wants to do good (19, 21) yet is at odds with 'the flesh' or (some translations, sinful nature) which does things the inmost self does not want to do (15b, 16a, 18, 23).

Whatever we make 'psychologically' about this way of seeing the psyche of the human person, Paul is touching on a profound human experience of letting God down, hurting others and damaging ourselves through sin: we 'do not understand [our] own actions' (15a), we do things we cannot understand ourselves doing (15b-16), we tend to blame such situations on something within us we cannot control (17), we set out to do right and end up hurting others (18b-19).

Cleverly Paul sets up this 'internal dialogue' in such a way that by verse 23 we are applauding Paul's insight into our own behaviour even as we feel crushed by the seeming prison of desire and sin in which we are trapped. We are doomed, it seems, with no way out. Or not?

In verse 24-25a Paul leaps from the prison. Having faced what a 'wretched man' he is, he asks, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

There is only one answer, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (25a).

From that exuberance Paul turns back to the course of his insight. Perhaps looking ahead to the renewing of his mind through God's transformative power (12:1-2) Paul makes the point in conclusion that

'with my mind [equals saved and transformed by God through Jesus Christ our Lord]
I am a slave to the law of God,
but with my flesh (where the power of sin still has hold of me)
I am a slave of the law of sin." (25b)

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Preaching on this particular selection definitely requires a word about what has gone before the launch in to Jesus saying, "But to what will I compare this generation ..." (16).

The prelude to our passage is Jesus in conversation, indirectly, with John the Baptist languishing in prison (11:1-15). His reflection on their respective ministries is that both, though completely different in style (see 18-19), have provoked opposition: scorn, doubts, and derision.

We may not expect what Jesus then says. Perhaps we would have said, "But God will deal with the naysayers." Jesus simply says, "Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds" (19). In a brief, simple sentence, Jesus links the pre-gospel message with the gospel as both messages are 'wisdom'. Here 'wisdom' is the revelation of God to the world, an active word of God which brought the world into being (see Proverbs 8:22-31).

Scholars speak of 'wisdom christology' in Matthew: here is a seed of understanding, that Jesus embodies wisdom (as does John the Baptist), which will come to fuller flowering in John's Gospel with the declaration that 'the Word became flesh' (1:14) and in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians when he declares that Jesus is 'wisdom from God' (1:30).

Jesus' point is that the wisdom shared between himself and John the Baptist is vindicated - we could say, 'proved to be true' by deeds - by the miracles described in verses 4 to 5.

We then skip a passage which is a pity, as verses 20-24 make the converse point: to deny that the wisdom of God comes through John the Baptist and Jesus, especially when so powerfully illustrated by the latter's miracle working deeds, is to invoke God's judgment.

If the end of verse 19 offers a 'wisdom christology' we zoom very fast in verses 25-30 to a 'Son of God christology'!

Verse 25 has an ironic note concerning 'wisdom': what God reveals through Jesus is 'hidden' from the 'wise and intelligent' (that is, they don't get it), instead the ones who show their understanding by responding to Jesus are 'infants', that is, the disciples.

Verse 26 offers an interpretation of this state of affairs: 'yes, Father, for such was your gracious will'.

The Father's grace offers this revelatory wisdom to all, including to those not deemed in the world's eyes to be 'wise and intelligent', but this revelation is beyond the ability of the wise and intelligent to grasp it. It may seem ungracious that it is 'hidden' from them, but it certainly is gracious that God's revealed truth through Jesus is not restricted to the brainy scholars among us!

Verse 27 is an oddity within Matthew, Mark (not found) and Luke (repeated in Luke 11:21). It seems a statement more at home, indeed completely at home in John's Gospel. Indeed this verse is sometimes called the Johannine thunderbolt (prompted by Luke 10:18), a statement akin to a 'meteor from the Johannine sky.'

Nevertheless in this verse, whether uncharacteristic of Matthew or not, we have a remarkable statement about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son: Father and Son are identified around the point of knowledge (i.e. wisdom).

'All things' have been handed over to the Son (power to redeem as well as create the world?). Father and Son know each other intimately and completely. When the Son reveals things, what is being revealed is God's word and God's will. In particular, it is through the Son that we may know the Father.

Verses 28-30 then seem slightly at odds with this christological discourse, having more of a pastoral flavour. What must have been important in the remembering of these words of Jesus is that a pastor who says 'Come to me' and I will take care of your burdens is no ordinary pastor when he is the Son to whom the Father has handed all things and who is the way to the Father.

Might we be encouraged also as we come to Jesus today with our burdens and cares?

The specific image of the 'yoke' is highly suggestive of one aspect of 'burden' which a religious person might carry, in particular a fellow Israelite in Jesus' day. 'Yoke' spoke of the requirements of keeping the Law or Torah. Many statements in the gospels suggest that interpretations of the Law by Jewish teachers of the Law added to the burden these requirements made. If so, then Jesus is saying that his teaching is a way to lighten the load by re-finding the true meaning of the Law, which is to give life rather than to squash it. 'Yoke' also suggests two oxen yoked together in order for their walking around the millstone to crush grain into flour - often one of the oxen being senior to the other. Again, if so, then Jesus is saying not only that his teaching is 'lighter' than that of his contemporaries but that his way of life is easier because he shares with each disciple the burden of living it.

Postscript: I love the rendering of 28-30 which Eugene Peterson gives in The Message:

'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.'

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday 2 July 2017 - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Welcome / Identification between God, Jesus and disciples / Death versus eternal life/ Slaves to God

Sentence: 'You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God (Romans 6:18)

Collect:

Almighty God,
grant that we your children
may never be ashamed
to confess the faith of Christ crucified,
but continue his faithful servants
to our lives' end. Amen.

Readings: related

Jeremiah 28:5-9

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 10:40-42

Commentary:

Jeremiah 28:5-9

Here (looking ahead to our gospel reading), a prophet's life is a perilous one. To the extent that this ministry is one of anticipation and prediction of the future, a prophet's ministry depends on words today being matched by outcomes tomorrow. Jeremiah's ministry is a running battle between himself claiming one thing and other ('official') prophets claiming another, each with such specificity that both cannot be right.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

A celebration of God's 'great love for ever' (1) makes a supporting point to the gospel reading when it speaks of 'reward'. The ones who are 'blessed' are those who 'have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.' This state of blessedness is not so much a reward at the end of some labour, like a bonus payment for a worker, or a holiday at the end of a year of effort, but a continuing state of benefit: walking in the light of God's presence is its own reward.

Romans 6:12-23

Continuing Paul's response to the question whether the abundance of God's grace means we may sin as much as we like after discovering we are recipients of God's grace, Paul clearly lays down a principle for Christian living, 'do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires' (12, effectively repeated in 13).

Verse 14 brings us to an associated principle: life is lived under some kind of lord or master. To keep on sinning is to live under the mastery or lordship of sin. For a Christian,that is, a confessor that 'Jesus is Lord,' this cannot be so.

Verses 15 to 18 expand on the principle laid down in verse 14 and verses 19-23 offer further comment in a slightly different vein. In the latter case a theme from verse 18 is taken up. The opposite of being slaves to sin is being slaves to righteousness. Verse 22 underlines the importance of living out this form of slavery: only slavery to God leads to holy living with the result of 'eternal life'. Verse 23 is then a summary of the argument: the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.

Matthew 10:40-42

It could be easy to (mis)read this message in a kind of social sense: "We, the church, need to be a welcoming body of people." We do, but is that the primary importance of this passage? The focus is actually on the welcome the world gives the church rather than the other way around! Themes here are discipleship, mission and christology.

The context (recalling last Sunday's gospel) is the 'cost of discipleship.' Now Jesus turns the emphasis in a new direction: disciples need not uniformly expect a bad reception, some will welcome them. To these good outcomes Jesus offers encouragement, both to the disciples and to the ones who welcome them.

First, since true disciples are representatives of Jesus, missioners in the mission he has commissioned, a welcome given to the disciples is a welcome given to Jesus himself, embodied in them. In turn, reflecting the relationship between Jesus as one sent from God and God as sender, the welcome to disciples is a welcome of 'the one who sent me' (40).

Implicit here is some kind of reward for welcoming God! To an extent verse 41 makes this explicit, except that we have no idea what a 'prophet's reward' or a 'righteous person's reward' is! Digging deeper into the passage we can get some sense of what is meant. From verse 40 we bring a strong identification, God/Jesus/disciple to verse 41. If we see a similar identification, God/prophet and God/righteous person, then the one who welcomes the prophet welcomes God and the one who welcomes a righteous person welcomes God and in each case the welcome is a form of identification, welcomer/prophet and welcomer/righteous person. Thus a prophet's reward belongs to the welcomer, ditto for a righteous person's reward. In each case the reward (taking into account other talk in Scripture of 'reward') is the privilege of being a participant in the life of God and standing securely in the presence of God.

In verse 42 Jesus moves from the general case of prophets and righteous people being welcomed (which hearkens back to the history of Israel) to the specific case of his disciples (looking around in the present and looking ahead to the future expansion of the kingdom). Even a cup of cold water to a quite ordinary disciple (i.e. one who may not also be a notable prophet or a distinctively righteous person) leads to reward. Given the general expectations of hospitality in the Middle East (food and accommodation), Jesus is signalling here that the slightest of welcomes counts.

Disciples may have some expectation of welcome and not persecution. Welcomers of disciples are welcomers of God and that carries with it rewards of a special kind. Disciples in mission move forward as fast as the welcome accorded them.

Secondly, woven through these verses is a very important christological note, one which undergirds the distinctive christology of John's Gospel with its great themes of the oneness of Father and Son and of the Son as the sent one from God. Jesus is God in human form: when we welcome Jesus we welcome God. When people welcome followers of Jesus they welcome Jesus and thus welcome God into their lives.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sunday 25 June 2017 - 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Discipleship / Being disciples / Cost of discipleship / Abounding grace / Mocked for Jesus' sake?

Sentence: Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39).

Collect:

Holy God, grant us the beginning of wisdom
and love to cast our every fear:
that we may grow more brace,
more ready to hear,
more ready to obey,
the teaching of Jesus,
doing so through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Readings: (Related, rather than Continuous)

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17) 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Commentary:

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Jeremiah has just been brutally treated, beaten and placed in stocks (20:1-3). After his release Jeremiah has denounced his tormenter, Pashhur (20:4-6). But our verses are at odds with Jeremiah's external confidence in this denunciation. They seem to give us a sense of the internal feelings of Jeremiah. Speaking to the Lord, Jeremiah says that he feels as though he has been enticed and overpowered by the Lord because his words have led to him becoming 'a laughingstock all day long' (7).

Yet, Jeremiah goes on, this painful experience of derision (8) is not able to be stopped by ceasing to preach the word of the Lord. He cannot suppress the word which is burning within him (9a),indeed he has tried but the effort (like all suppression of raging feelings!) is too wearying. It must come out.

Despite the denunciations he experiences, Jeremiah is confident the Lord will see him through (11-13).

Thus Jeremiah is a prototypical disciple for the kind of 'tough' commitment Jesus expects of his own disciples in today's gospel reading.

Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17) 18-20

The psalmist (likely David, according to the superscription) seems to be in a similar mood to the prophet Jeremiah! He too has 'borne reproach' (7). Thus our passage begins in v. 8 with the psalmist feeling that his zeal for the Lord's house (9) has become the occasion for alienation from his own family.

David is bowed down (9-11), even broken (19-20). He cries to the Lord for help (13-18). As with many prayers in the Old Testament, his hope for answered prayer rests on the character of the Lord: 'your steadfast love ... your abundant mercy' (16).

Romans 6:1b-11

In the unfolding argument of Paul in Romans, on the nature of the gospel of grace, logic requires Paul to take up some inevitable questions. In this case, if the grace of God is so abundant as to forgive all sin (see, e.g. 5:20-21) then 'Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?' (6:1b).

That question might not quite be our question today, but we may - at least implicitly - have similar questions: God doesn't want me to be perfect does he? A few little sins don't matter, do they? Oh, well (as we succumb to a tasty temptation) God forgives us, doesn't he?

Paul is decisive in his summary answer - I will print it in caps for effect: BY NO MEANS! Even shorter would be, 'NO!'

But implicitly his readers press him to give a reason - parents experience this with their children, 'But why?' So Paul - as a spiritual father to his Roman children - sets out his case for answering, 'By no means!' It goes like this:

1. A Christian is a changed person who has died to sin through baptism in order to walk in newness of life (2b-4). To sin now, for a Christian, is a form of ignorance. It betrays a misunderstanding of what being a Christian is all about.

2. Expanding on 1, a Christian is a dead person walking, dead people are free from sin (7) and so a Christian is to live 'no longer enslaved to sin' (6b). To continue sinning, for a Christian, is to live oppositely to the work of Christ which sets us free from such slavery.

3. Lest any Christian think, perversely, 'Well, I will just keep dying and being set free,' Christ died only once ('The death he died, he died to sin, once for all' (10) and thus we are to 'consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus' (11). That is, our baptism into Christ's death (4) is a once and for all experience, a death we are to live out for all time. We by no means keep on sinning, and certainly not to invoke the abundance of God's grace, because we are dead to sin.

(Although beyond the scope of this week's passage - in fact part of next week's passage, 6:12-14 acknowledges the dual reality of Christian life: spiritually we are dead to sin, physically and mentally we remain prone to sin so we are not to let 'sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies' (12) nor to continue presenting 'your members to sin as instruments of wickedness' (12).)

Matthew 10:24-39

This is a challenging compendium on discipleship for preachers.

Challenge (1) is the painful cost of discipleship in this life.

Challenge (2) is choosing whether to say something about each topic within the passage, attend to just one or two verses, or attempt to generally speak about the cost of discipleship.

The context (see the beginning of Matthew 10) is sending out the Twelve to 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel' (6). In this mission they are to travel lightly (9-10), efficiently (11-15), wisely and bravely (16-23).

Now Jesus reminds them that he asks nothing of them which he has not experienced himself (24-25), to have no fear save for fear of God (26-31), to never be ashamed of him (32-33), to recognise the divisive nature of the gospel they bear (34-36), to belong exclusively to Jesus with relativised family ties (37), to be willing to die, knowing that life is found when it is lost for the sake of Jesus (38-39).

Within this compendium of instruction and advice, note the value placed on the disciples (30-31).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday 18 June 2017 - 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Te Pouhere Sunday

My usual timetable for getting posts up on or before a Monday has not been what it ought to have been! Here, for now, I list readings, and will try to get comments up (for RCL readings) as quickly as possible!

Collect for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Bountiful God,
with a generous hand you sow the seeds of the Kingdom.
Grant us the grace to cultivate your salplings,
that all might find shade in the forest of love.
All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings for 11 Sunday in Ordinary Time ("related")

Exodus 19:2-8a
Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8

Comments:

Exodus 19:2-8a

These verses set out the special relationship between God and Israel. That relationship lies behind the restriction Jesus places on his commission to the twelve in the gospel reading below.

Psalm 100

This psalm does not need to be explained. It needs to be sung! Perhaps in response to reading Romans 5:1-8.

Romans 5:1-8

Paul begins this chapter with "Therefore" which compels us to look back to what he has been saying in the previous chapter or chapters. Effectively those chapters are summed up in the phrase "we are justified by faith" (1) (note 4:22-25). So, Paul says, since this is true, therefore "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1). In a new, healed relationship with God "we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast of our hope of sharing in the glory of God" (2). In other words, Paul having charted the path to salvation in Romans 1-4 now begins to tackle the question of what salvation means and what the saved can expect in this life. We the saved are in a new, wonderful relationship with God, beginning to experience the blessing of God, though its fullest experience is yet to come.

In the meantime, we will experience sufferings and Paul reflects on what that means (3-5).

Then, Paul, perhaps with his mind full of how we came to be saved, reverts to the theme of chapters 1-4 and again, but more briefly, rehearses the gospel story of how Jesus died for us, as proof of God's love towards us (6-8).

We  have much to be thankful for!

Matthew 9:35-10:8

Well, after the special interests of Eastertide, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, what better thing to do as we corporately read the Scriptures than to get down to brass tacks in the mission of God, in which we are graciously invited to participate.

In this reading, Jesus goes out in mission (9:35-38), and that means Matthew is telling us about it as an example for us, not just as a bit of "history of mission."

What do we learn?

1. The mission of Jesus was extensive, going everywhere in Israel.
2. The mission was in word and in deed.
3. The mission was motivated by compassion.
4. The need for the mission was great but missioners were in short supply. Prayer to God for supply was required.

We then find the mission of Jesus is extended - as though answering the need addressed in v. 37-38 - to include "the twelve" (10:1-8).

Their mission is pretty similar to Jesus', a mission in God's name of word and of deed (7-8). But they are not Jesus so they need "authority" in order to beat the power of the evil one as "unclean spirits" do their damage in the world (1). Authority  "over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness" (1) is, of course, nothing less than divine authority, the authority of God now invested in them.

As Matthew tells the story of the commissioning of the twelve for mission he uses the narrative to also tell us their names (2-4). Don't miss the fact that he describes them in this context as "apostles", that is, as "sent ones" or "missioners." Later the church will look back on the twelve as "The Twelve Apostles" with potential to make "apostle" mean "senior leader." The twelve were the senior leaders in the early church but primarily they were commissioned for mission and not for leadership.

A challenge for us as readers lies in two places:
1. Verses 5-6 where the mission is narrowly focused on Israel and "not Gentiles, not Samaritans" though they were near at hand. Why wasn't Jesus more, well, inclusive? Over the whole of Matthew's Gospel (e.g. noting 28:16-20) we see a vision unfolding for an inclusive mission to the whole world. Here, perhaps, we might think of Matthew reporting to us that Jesus had concern for the Jews as the special people of God, the ones first called through Abraham and Moses into covenant relationship. Many Jews had lost their way before God. They are now called back to God before the mission extends to the Gentiles and to the Samaritans.
2. (if we extend our investigation from v. 8 to vss. 8-10, or vss. 8-15) This mission of Jesus is to be conducted with minimal resources (i.e. nothing), no pay, and a huge faith in God's provision (e.g. via hospitality (11-12). What does this mean in our day?

Readings for Te Pouhere Sunday (resources for Te Pouhere Sunday at www.anglican.org.nz/Resources/Lectionary-and-Worship )

Isaiah 42:10-20
2 Corinthians 5:14-19 or Acts 10:34-43
John 15:9-17 or Matthew 7:24-29 or Luke 6:46-49 or John 17:6-26

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sunday 11 June 2017 - Trinity Sunday

Theme(s): God is Trinity; God the Three-in-One; The Triune God: Father Son and Holy Spirit

Sentence:

Collect: Grace and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:4-5a)

God of unchangeable power,
you have revealed yourself
to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
keep us firm in this faith
that we may praise and bless your holy name;
for you are one God now and for ever. Amen.

Readings:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Comments:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

We read this reading today not because we are confusing 'creation' as a theme with 'Trinity' but because this reading reminds us that God (who is Father Son and Holy Spirit, according to the witness of the whole Bible) is Creator. The work of Father Son and Holy Spirit begins (from our perspective) as the work of creating the world.

Within this reading are two fascinating phrases to reflect on today.

But before citing them and offering a reflection we need to be very clear that how we approach this passage as Christian readers is not without searching questions. In its original circulation as a completed composition, this passage was published by ancient Jews, probably in the sixth century BC or later, certainly before the time of Christ, let alone before Christians began to articulate belief that God was One yet Three. No Jew then, and no Jew now, reads this passage as offering any hint of God's Trinitarian nature. Among Christians the possibility that we may read this passage along Trinitarian lines is controversial. Some see no problem: God was more than capable of inspiring Jewish scribes to write material which harboured hidden clues concerning future disclosure about the Trinity. Some say it is disrespectful to the original publication of the passage to impose a Christian reading on a Jewish document.

Now to the two phrases:

(1) In Genesis 1:2 we read, 'the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.' Christian interpreters of Scripture have understood the 'wind' here - 'spirit' is a possible translation - as the Holy Spirit at work in creation.

(2) In Genesis 1:26 we read, 'Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; ...' Christian interpreters have understood the plural 'us' here to be a reference to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Note also Genesis 3:22; 11:7).

[EXCURSUS: As a point of exegetical intrigue, we can readily understand how a Jewish writer would write Genesis 1:2 as no direct inconsistency regarding the Oneness of God is implied but 1:26 is more difficult, as, on the face of it, "us" implies a plurality of gods and Jews in ancient Israel believed that God was One and there was only One God. Irrespective of Christian readings of Genesis 1:26, why would ancient Jews have circulated this passage with this verse in it in this plural form? One possibility which is plausible is to think of Israel's understanding of the heavenly court of God which involved plural beings who were divine (in some sense, but not in the fullest sense of the divinity of God himself) - see 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1:6 as well as Psalm 82:1. Thus God is saying to his heavenly court, let us make human creatures on earth who are like the heavenly beings of this heavenly court. END of Excursus.]

A Trinitarian reading of the passage Genesis 1:26-27 makes sense in this way: God as a communion of Father Son and Holy Spirit make humanity in the image of God, that is a complementary set of man and woman with capacity to form a union of love which images the union of love, or communion of Father Son and Holy Spirit. The image is not about maths (3-in-1 compared with 2-in-1)! The imaging involved is the capacity of humanity (in its diversity yet capable of unity) to represent an aspect or aspects of the very character of God (Three-in-One diversity which is also a unity).

In other readings, plausible for both Jews and Christians, being made in the image of God is about humanity's capacity to make decisions freely, and/or to be creative, especially to create life itself through procreation (1:28a), and/or to be lord of the world (i.e. God is Lord of the whole universe, humanity is lord (and steward) of the resources of the earth (see 1:28b).

Psalm 8

This psalm can be read in various ways (e.g. as a pearl of praise of great price, one which has justly received the attention of very fine composers) but here we read it in Trinitarian perspective as an address to God about the ordering of the world and the place of humanity in it. 

Above all creation is God, and within the glory of God we find ourselves inhabiting a marvellous world in which it is amazing that God has remembered us, ordered as we are to a rank below the angels (8:5). Yet God has not just remembered us, God has crowned us with glory and honour and given us dominion over creation (8:5-6). 

Thus when we consider God as Trinity we are considering God as God, utterly distinct in rank, status and glory from his creation and from us as his creatures yet also as God who in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God has bridged the distinction, becoming one with us.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

We could sing the last verse of this passage instead of preaching on it! But the very fact that the words are used regularly as a concluding prayer to Christian gatherings, whether said or sung, is an alert to think carefully about this verse and its contents. It is a wonderful prayer but it is also an important clue to the thinking of the first Christians about the nature of the God they were realising was being revealed to them in new ways compared with the revelation made known to Israel which was embedded in the Old Testament.

Obviously Paul, concluding this letter, is not intentionally developing a piece of theological explanation. But his prayer is instructive. As a Christian community it is called into being by Jesus Christ so he prays that the grace - the generous kindness and unlimited mercy - of Jesus will be with them (and they need it, because they are a community of faith at odds with themselves). This grace is only reinforced by invoking the love of God, the love which God has for his people. A community bound together by the grace of Jesus and the love of God has an icing on this particular cake when the communion or fellowship of the Holy Spirit is also with them. (I.e. communion/fellowship is the relationship the church has with the Holy Spirit which indwells them as God's personal presence in God's living temple, the church).

We might have preferred, at least for the sake of Trinitarian neatness that 'God' in 13:13 was 'the Father', but Paul is not living in 325 AD (or later)! But this prayer looks ahead to that day. It demonstrates a Christian community aware through its apostle that God is now being experienced in the persons of Jesus Christ, who once lived among their spiritual forbears in Palestine, as well as in the person of the Holy Spirit, who now lives among them and they within him.

Matthew 28:16-20

In the Year of Matthew we could head to this passage on numerous counts: the last words of Jesus according to this gospel; the commissioning of the disciples for mission; the promise of Jesus being present to his disciples for ever. Today, obviously, we head here because of the clarity with which God as Father Son and Holy Spirit is invoked in verse 28:19, 'baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.'

Given that the Gospel was written before 100 AD, this is a remarkable anticipation of full blown Trinitarian doctrine, yet to be articulated by the church's future theologians. Note, for instance, that 'the name' is singular so that some sense of the Oneness of God is present. On the other hand, the sequence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is as clear a representation of God in Three Persons, as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit, as we find anywhere in the New Testament. It is clearer, for instance, than 2 Corinthians 13:13. Other verses we might refer to are: Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Galatians 4:6: Ephesians 4:4-6; Revelation 1:4-5.

From an authorial perspective, Matthew has perhaps distilled more clearly what other NT writers were saying about the church's experience of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and connected this directly to baptism. If one is being baptized in the name of God then the name of this God (with 'name' reflecting the character of God as experienced by his people) is 'Father Son and Holy Spirit.' 

(By contrast we might note Luke's propensity to describe baptism as being in the 'name of the Lord Jesus', Acts 19:5. Here, however, is not the place to pursue further the question of the Lukan and Matthean understandings of baptism and the manner in which they differ and/or agree). 

From the perspective of Jesus, is this something he himself was likely to have said? It is tempting to understand the whole of this last speech of the Matthean Jesus as a creation of the author (not least because the Matthean Jesus says little about the Holy Spirit). But any haste to do so could be constrained by recognising that the Jesus we meet across the four gospels, especially in Luke and John) is quite familiar with the Holy Spirit, and in the latter gospel, very articulate about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

Finally, as a historical reflection, when we baptise 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' (NZPB, p. 386) we are invoking a most ancient formula, going back at least to the time of the publication of Matthew's Gospel, but likely earlier since there is a finite chance that Matthew himself is invoking a baptismal formula already in use when he composed his gospel.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sunday 4 June 2017 - Pentecost

Theme(s): Holy Spirit / Coming of the Holy Spirit / Spirit of creation and renewal / What a great day Pentecost was!

Sentence: For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Collect:

Living God, eternal Holy Spirit,
let your bright intoxicating energy
which fired those first disciples
fall on us
to turn the world again, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings: the lectionary offers some alternatives this week. The following are my choices.

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

Commentary:

Acts 2:1-21

No Pentecost celebration could be complete without the unique story of the great day of the coming of the Spirit being read.

What a great day it was!

It was a day in which a promise was fulfilled (see Luke 24/Acts 1).

It was a day in which prophecy was fulfilled (see Peter's citation from Joel in his sermon).

It was a day in which prayer was answered (the prayers made between the Ascension and Pentecost).

It was a day in which the Spirit came upon God's people in a new manifestation.

It was a day in which the gospel was preached with power and great effect.

Something to ponder is this. In Acts 1 Jesus commissions his team of disciples for their work in the world, essentially to carry on the mission of God. In Acts 2 the Spirit of Jesus empowers the disciples for that work. Jesus does not ask us to do something which he does not give us the power to carry out.

Pentecost is the festival day in which we celebrate what a great day it was and still is, for the same Jesus unleashes the same powerful Spirit to help us to be obedient to his commission.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

What kind of spirit came down at Pentecost? We say this psalm because it draws our attention to the work of God in creation, a work which is accomplished by the Spirit of God ('your spirit', v. 30). The unstated assumption in the choice of this psalm is that at Pentecost the same creating Spirit of God is 'at it again' - creating a new thing or (picking up the emphasis in the second part of v. 30) renewing creation. From this perspective the day of Pentecost is not simply the creation of one new thing, the church, but the creation of a new world. In part, according to Acts 2, this is exemplified by the gathering of the nations in Jerusalem, with their many tongues, who are now forged into a new people of God by the overflowing Spirit of God who breathes new life into them.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

There is a whole book to be written about this passage, not least because we could write a chapter on each of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned here: utterance of wisdom through to the interpretation of tongues, nine gifts in all (8-10). As an aside, these nine gifts are not the whole list of gifts of the Spirit since in, e.g., Romans 12 we find some other gifts mentioned.

Nevertheless, more briefly, we can highlight three important aspects of the Spirit of God at work in the life of the church.

1. The Spirit of God is completely coherent with the lordship of Jesus Christ over the church. The Spirit is at work where people confess that Jesus is Lord. The Spirit is not at work where people curse Jesus (3).

2. The Spirit of God works in the church through gifting members of the body of Christ, the church, with abilities which further the mission of Christ in the world and enhance the 'common good' of the church (4-11).

3. The Spirit of God welds people together into one body of Christ, incorporating individual believers into the corporation or body of Christ. In doing this one Spirit makes one body of Christ, the Spirit of God's work is completely coherent with the work of Christ. Paul does not use the term 'weld' but 'baptized' which alludes to the outward physical activity which expresses the body-making activity of the Spirit: 'For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body' (13).

Let's remember that when Paul also mentions the kinds of different people being welded into the one body, 'Jews or Greeks, slaves or free' (13), he is making the point that the Spirit of God can bind together the kinds of people with the humanly speaking greatest and seemingly impossible-to-overcome differences.

John 20:19-23

Here I reprise my comments from a few weeks ago. Those comments were made then to expand on the meaning of the passage in a resurrection setting for a post-Easter sermon. Here they might more directly influence the course of a sermon on the day of Pentecost itself:

Familiar with Matthew's and Luke's ending to their gospels, and with Luke's beginning to Acts, we are not surprised that John incorporates into his narrative an act of commissioning for service and an act of bestowing the Holy Spirit on the disciples. What is surprising is that John offers this incorporation on the first day of resurrection rather than some time subsequently - though there is an interesting point to consider about Luke's Gospel ending and Luke's Acts beginning with the former offering a kind of very long single day of resurrection through to departure/ascension and the latter explicitly stating an interval of forty days between resurrection and ascension.

John offers his commission and bestowal of the Spirit in characteristic manner.

Throughout the gospel Jesus has been the one sent by the Father to do a special work in the world. Now this sending and its associated mission becomes that of the disciples: 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you' (21). Simply said, profoundly full of implication: our mission is the mission of Jesus; the Father sends the Son, the Son sends us because the Son has the Father's authority (before you know it, we have the Trinity)! Our mission is worldwide in scope (see John 3:16), it follows through a divine plan hatched since before the world began (see John 1:1-18) ... no pressure then!

The Holy Spirit has been coming into view as we read through the Gospel. In his final testament to the disciples (see chapters 14-16 and his final prayer for them, chapter 17), Jesus has promised the Spirit will assist them in various ways, principally in recalling to their minds all that he has taught them and opening up for them the significance of that teaching. Now, Jesus having died and been raised to life, and commissioned the disciples for service, the time comes for the bestowal of the promised Spirit: 'he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit".'

Again, simply said, but full of profound implications. What equipment does the church of God require to do God's work? Theological degrees, certificates for training undertaken, an iPhone, a photocopier, an internet connection and a car. All those are useful but the primary equipment is the Holy Spirit!

Two questions might then arise.

a. would we have then said what is said in verse 23 about forgiving sins? Wouldn't we expect, say, something about 'go and preach the gospel with power' or 'discern which gifts the Spirit has given you and get on with using them for God's glory'? Yet, when we pause and reflect on these words, we can see a profound connection between the work of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins. 

What is the forgiveness of sins but the healing of the past which so often prevents people from living well in the present and rejoicing with hope for the future. The Holy Spirit comes to heal the fallen creation and to initiate the new creation of God. Those who receive the Holy Spirit have the power to enable this work of healing through forgiveness or withholding it (e.g. by keeping the gospel of grace to themselves).

b. If we call verse 22 the 'Johannine Pentecost', how does this fit with 'the Pentecost' of Acts 2, much celebrated as a specific event of bestowing the Holy Spirit fifty days after the day of resurrection?

- there is not a strict incompatibility as though this event happening in this way for ten disciples prohibits a different (but related) event happening for 120 disciples

- John tends to tell us about Jesus in his own Johannine way. 'Let John be John' is the title of a famous paper by Prof. James Dunn. Perhaps the Johannine Pentecost is the bestowal of the Holy Spirit told in John's manner, associated with John's version of the commissioning of the disciples. Luke's version is Luke's version. Thus we might reflect on what between and across the two accounts we learn.

- that the Spirit comes upon believers more than once (albeit with one of the many such occasions perhaps being more distinctive and memorable than others); even in Luke's Acts, the Holy Spirit is manifest on more than once occasion.

- the way of John telling the story of Jesus bestowing the Spirit must stand for a means of bestowing the Spirit which is available beyond this specific instance: Thomas was missing (for starters); no woman was present (contrast Acts 1-2).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday 27 May 2017 - Either Ascension Day (transferred) or 7th Sunday of Easter

It is appropriate and possible to transfer the celebration of Ascension from Thursday 24 May to this Sunday, 27 May. Rather than make that decision for you, I offer below two sets of readings/comments.
(1) 7th Sunday of Easter = Sunday after Ascension
(2) Ascension Day

(1) 7th Sunday of Easter = Sunday after Ascension

Theme(s): Ascension, Departure, Suffering for Christ, Unity, Prayer for disciples

Sentence: This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)

Collect:

Jesus Christ, you left your disciples,
only that you might send the Holy Spirit
to be our advocate.
Grant us the Spirit of truth
to convince the world that you are risen from the dead.

Readings:

Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

Commentary:

Acts 1:6-14

The ascension of Jesus is the departure of Jesus from everyday human experience of Jesus as a fellow human being, with whom meals could be eaten and conversations had. Our prime human reporter of the ascension as a specific event in history (i.e. one moment Jesus is present, the next he is not, after that there is no return) is Luke. To an extent Matthew is another witness as the ending of his gospel is consistent with a departure after the last speech of Jesus (28:16-20) but this witness is coloured by Matthew's variance from Luke as the former places the implied ascension in Galilee and the latter is very clear about it being on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Nevertheless an extraordinary connection is formed between the geographical variations across the two gospels when the disciples are addressed as "Men of Galilee" in 1:11.

From Luke's perspective, as narrator of what we could call "The Acts of Jesus" and its sequel "The Acts of the Holy Spirit," it is important to delineate the period of Jesus (conception to ascension) and the period of the Holy Spirit (anticipated in the life of Jesus as a man filled with the Holy Spirit, available to all believers from the day of Pentecost). This delineation occurs in chapter 1 of the Acts of the Apostles. With Jesus of Nazareth departed, the way is paved for the Holy Spirit to come in a visible and audible experience in Acts chapter 2.

For us, as followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, inclined (it seems, from current experience) to celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost in colourful, festive ways, what does Ascension mean? Do we properly value it?

At the heart of the theology of Ascension lie two important considerations.

One, touched on in verse 11, is the connection between departure and return. The Ascension of Jesus is a departure of significance in its own right (our only direct experiences of Jesus in visible form are the occasional visions of Jesus granted to some believers) but it is also a departure which underlines a promise and a prediction in Jesus' own teaching: one day he will return. We are now between the Ascension and the Second Coming. To commemorate the Ascension should be to anticipate the Second Coming.

Two, the Ascension as departure is also an event of conclusion. The whole extraordinary character of the life of Jesus from miraculous conception to notable birth to special commissioning through baptism by John and the Spirit to death and resurrection is now brought to a conclusion. Jesus remains alive but not present to us in any kind of physical sense. With the ascension we celebrate the end of the earthly life of Jesus.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

The virtues of God as provider and protector of his people are praised in this psalm.

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

Continuing through 1 Peter, today's reading returns to a key theme woven through this letter: participation in the sufferings of Christ. To suffer for and with Christ is 'blessed' (4:14) and thus Christians can appropriately 'rejoice' when suffering (4:13).

Yet Christians need a certain kind of vigilance (5:6-11). Life should be lived in such a manner as to not incur deserved suffering (4:15) and to avoid suffering that might be a consequence of giving in to the devil's wiles (5:8-9).

All of which is worthwhile (5:10-11). With such a God on our side, we can confidently 'cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us]' (5:7).

John 17:1-11

Verse 11 is key to understanding why we have this reading on the Sunday after Ascension:

'I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.'

John may not have a specific description of the event of ascension but he has a clear view of its occasion (see also 20:17).

This chapter is a final prayer of Jesus, sometimes called 'the high priestly prayer of Jesus.' Within the context of the gospel the content of the prayer is a masterful recollection of the great themes of the gospel (check out, for instance, words and phrases such as: glory, eternal life, sent, the hour has come, revealed, world, believe).

In continuation of our gospel readings in John through these weeks, the final verse reminds us of what is arguably the greatest theme in the gospel: the unity of the Father and the Son and the desire for unity between the disciples as a reflection of the continuity of divine life between God Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the disciples:

'... so that they may be one as we are one.'

(2) Ascension Day

Theme                  Christ risen, ascended and glorified        

Sentence             Lift up your heads you gates! Lift yourselves up you everlasting doors! That the king of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7) [NZPB, p. 601]

Collect                  Eternal God,
                                By raising Jesus from the dead
                                You proclaimed his victory,
                                And by his ascension
                                You declared him king.
                                Lift up your hearts to heaven
                                That we may live and reign with him. Amen [NZPB, p. 601]          

Readings         Acts 1:1-11
                      Psalm 47                                     
Ephesians 1:15-23
                             Luke 24:44-53

Introduction: this post takes no view on whether Ascension Day should be celebrated on Ascension Day (in 2013, Thursday 9 May) or the Sunday after Ascension Day. It does however deal with Ascension Day readings on the basis that, most likely, Ascension Day is being celebrated on the Sunday afterwards.

Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53

I do not think this need be brought into a sermon, but it is fascinating to see how Luke deals with the last event in Jesus' physical presence on earth in his two texts, the ending of the gospel and the beginning of Acts. There are similarities and there are differences.

In 'big picture' (or 'big theme') terms, each passage conveys two messages: the gospel mission of Jesus must now spread throughout the world, but first new empowerment through the Holy Spirit must come upon the disciples.

The 'event' in each passage is the departure, depicted physically as an 'ascent', of Jesus from the disciples. Never again, save in episodic visionary experiences will they see their Lord again.

Where does Jesus go to? Both texts answer "heaven". Later, Peter, in his Pentecost Day sermon will add "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33). Obviously the physical talk of upwards travel to a place beyond the observable world of earth-and-space both assumes and contributes to an understanding that "heaven" is above us. It also offers a physical image to match the increase in glory and honour implicit in the idea that Jesus is now 'exalted' to the right hand of God (i.e. seated on a throne on the right side of the divine throne).

Ascension then is a celebration of both departure and exaltation, of the physical loss of Jesus to his followers and of the triumphant gain of Jesus exalted to glory in the realm of heaven. With exaltation the victory won in the resurrection, the defeat of the power of death as the last enemy against humanity is completed. With departure the door is open to a new history of God being present among God's people, God the Holy Spirit will dwell among them.

Yet this event is also about us. The departure of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come in power is integrated with the great commission. We misunderstand Ascension and its importance if we think of it as (say) a postscript to the life of Jesus, or a snapshot of the glory of the exalted Jesus. Ascension is also the beginning of a new era in our history, the time when we are responsible for the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ. Luke in both texts is keenly alert to this point. If (as some scholars of Luke's writings have supposed) Jesus has come in the middle of history, then we are now in its last period. That this is so, according to Luke, is underlined in Acts 1:11. Jesus has departed, but he will return.

Psalm 47

This is a fitting song of praise to God on this festive occasion.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Obviously verse 20 in this passage links the text to the theme of 'exaltation' which is an important aspect of the theology of Ascension.

The passage is part of a long introduction to the epistle in which Paul sets out a profound set of insights into salvation, Christ, Christ's relationship to those who believe in him, and the great purpose of God being worked out through history - all given in the context of prayer and thanksgiving for his readers.

There is a sermon in every verse of this passage! 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday 21 May 2017 - Sixth Sunday of Easter

Theme(s):

Preaching the gospel today / The importance of the resurrection / Our identity in Christ / The promised gift of the Advocate

Sentence:

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father (John 14:21a)

Collect:

Holy God, you feed us
with earthly and with spiritual food.
Deathless, unalterable, you have chosen us,
sinful as we are,
to hear your word and to proclaim your truth,
may we do so boldly and creatively,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings:

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Commentary:

Acts 17:22-31

Paul has a tough speaking assignment here. He has a listening audience in Athens but their ears want to hear novelties rather than the truth.

Astutely Paul takes up an opportunity within the existing worldview of the audience. In their love for religious speculation about a diverse array of gods and philosophies they have allowed for 'an unknown god' (23) as one of their 'objects of worship' (23). That is the ultimate 'covering the bases' around pleasing all possible gods! So Paul picks up the concept of an unknown god and adroitly makes this god the God of Jesus Christ whom he serves through preaching the gospel.

Actually, careful reading of the sermon shows that Paul continues to build bridges to his audience by not talking about Jesus whose name would have meant nothing to the Athenians.

Instead Paul talks about 'the God who made the world and everything in it' (24) - few would have disputed the general concept of a divine power as cause of the world's existence. He goes on to talk about the God of Adam and Abraham without invoking names and makes the point that this God is not confined to 'shrines made by human hands' (25). Offering an explanation for his gospel in this manner means we are unsurprised to find him quoting from local Greek poet-philosophers (Epimenides with shades of Plato, Aratus) (28).

Naturally Paul's God is different from the totality of gods already known to the Athenians so, eventually, he has to move his speech into new territory for his audience. If they agree with him thus far that there is a God who is their unknown god then they need to know this is not all about idle and interesting speculation: a day of reckoning is coming (31a) and it will be conducted by 'a man whom he has appointed' (31b) and the assurance that this is so is that this man - obviously Jesus - has been raised from the dead (31c).

Two reactions follow: scoffing and invitation to hear him again (32) with the result that some become believers (33). By the time we get to verse 33 we think Paul has exhausted himself, this preaching has been so tough!

Two things are worth pondering deeply here. One directly relating to the importance of Eastertide.

1. The resurrection of Jesus is vital to Paul's argument. He speaks to an audience with a largely cyclical understanding of time (things go round and round and never come to an end). To them he says, Time is coming to an end; history has a point of completion. In support of that claim he cites a fact of history they are not aware of: God's appointed agent of judgment has been raised from the dead. The resurrection is not incidental to the story of Jesus. It is not just a happy ending after a very sad death: it is the decisive turning point in the plans and purpose of God for human history.

2. In a Godless Kiwi society, which is also pretty ignorant of who Jesus was and is (though prone to use his name profanely), what does Paul model in preaching the gospel which we could use in our context?

Psalm 66:8-20

The psalmist never gives up his faith, even though the toughest times are really tough. In fact, the psalmist can go a bit further: God has answered his prayers and done things for him. He will tell any who listen about this.

With a small amount of tongue in cheek, verse 12b is the favourite verse of the Anglican church. Perhaps especially in this past week when the Anglican church of these islands has resolved in its General Synod that we will be a church with a very wide view on seemingly opposing ideas, this verse especially applies: "you have brought us out to a spacious place."

1 Peter 3:13-22

We continue our reading through 1 Peter having jumped over 3:1-12. Why are the hard bits of the Bible left out of the lectionary?

This passage begins innocuously (13). This letter is addressed to Christians scattered, likely through persecution, so verse 14 likely applies. In which case, verse 15 is challenging: whether it is your mates or your persecutors asking you what makes you tick as a Christian,

'Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you'.

Obviously this implies that a sign of being a Christian is that we are ever hopeful. In practical terms that means we do not whinge, whine, or harp back in terms of the good old days. Instead we are always open to the future, believing that under God it will be better than today.

Verse 16 then says something about the character of our witness and the importance of keeping a 'clear conscience' in order that our persecutors may be put to shame. A comment in verse 17 about suffering for doing good then leads to an exposition of Christ and his suffering, picking up a theme already introduced in 2:21ff.

But here we are introduced to some thinking about what happened at the time of Christ's death which is unique to the New Testament: Christ as the risen spirit descended to the disobedient (i.e. evil) 'spirits in prison' (19-20). In turn this is linked to Noah and that leads to the theme of 'saved through water' (20) and thus to baptism (21). This passage is like a fast moving sermon in which many topics are introduced briefly, touched on profoundly, but never lingered on - not necessarily a great way to preach!

Verse 21 importantly says that Noah and his family's experience 'prefigures' baptism; and also says that 'baptism ... now saves you'. But the saving power of baptism does not lie in its literal effects, 'removal of dirt from the body' but in what it symbolises 'as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ'. That is, we are saved by what Christ has done for us, suffering 'for sins once for all ... in order to bring you to God' (18), a matter of the meaning of the Christ which is made apparent because Christ was raised to new life, as we now also are raised to new life. Baptism is the action done to believers which signifies what Christ has done for us.

The final verse is a clause of praise to this saving Christ who has suffered for us (22).

John 14:15-21

Continuing from last week's reading, Jesus, speaking in the hours before his death, looking ahead to where death will take him, and what he brings back after the resurrection to his disciples, in particular a life in which they are identified with him as he is identified with the Father, turns to practicalities of discipleship.

1. 'If you love me, you will keep my commandments' (15). This love is not a state of emotion but a series of acts of the will.

2. There will be a gift to the disciples of 'another Advocate' i.e. of another one to walk alongside them (lit: paraclete) as Jesus has been doing (16). This permanent presence is 'the Spirit of truth' or the Holy Spirit (17) who is beyond the world's comprehension (because they have not entrusted themselves to Jesus Christ so they cannot know the alternative who will be and do what Christ did) and will abide with them and will be in them (see, e.g., John 6).

Thus Jesus can say that he will not leave the disciples orphaned because, in the Spirit, 'I am coming to you' (18). Implicit here is also the coming or return of Jesus - temporarily - after the resurrection, which is also predicted in verse 19.

3. Most importantly, in respect of the resurrection, 'because I live, you also will live' (19b). As a consequence the disciples will, once and for all, understand the relationship - central to the characteristic manner of presentation of Jesus in this gospel - between the Father and the Son and the Son and the disciples (20). This is tied to the beginning of the passage in verse 21.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday 14 May 2017 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

Theme(s): I am the way, the truth and the life. The people of God. A holy nation. The first martyr.

Sentence: Jesus said, If you dwell within the revelation I have brought, you are indeed my disciples; you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)

Collect:

Eternal God,
your Son Jesus Christ
is the way, the truth and the life for all creation;
grant us grace to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever. Amen.

Readings:

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

Commentary:

Acts 7:55-60

Stephen becomes the first martyr of the fledgling Christian movement after the ascension of Jesus.

In Luke's telling of the dying of Stephen he makes the remarkable and inspiring claim that Stephen was 'filled with the Holy Spirit' and 'gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God' (55) His basis for doing so is Stephen's own words in verse 56. Violent and horrible though his death was, it is worth reading Luke carefully at this point. The rage against Stephen is the rage of those provoked on several counts by claims about the death and resurrection of Jesus. They have been sorely accused by their victim of disobeying God and of betraying and murdering the Righteous One of God. If he is right about the status of Jesus as vindicated at God's right hand then they are facing the wrath of God for their sins. They threw the stones which killed him as an intense reaction to Stephen's bold but highly provocative and (justly) accusatory sermon.

By contrast Stephen himself is Christ like (compare verse 60 with Luke 23:34).

But the death of Stephen is the beginning of Luke's story of Saul. He will pick up where the stone throwers left off and persecute the new movement. But, like Stephen at his death, he will have a visionary encounter with the risen Christ and everything will change for him in an instant. Stephen's death is not in vain since we can rightly presume that it made an unsettling impact on Saul.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

These verses, simply, are woven into the story of Stephen's death and shed light on the character of the martyr who entrusts everything about suffering evil into the hands of God who is good.

1 Peter 2:2-10

Not sure why verse one is omitted! We could do with ridding ourselves of malice, guile etc.

Peter's language here is steeped in the Old Testament with his talk of a living stone(s), a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, spiritual sacrifices, actual citations from the Old Testament and talk of his readers - scattered Christians - being a chosen race and so on. But what we find as we observe carefully is that this is (so to speak) the Old Testament with a Christian revision.

There is no talk here of a Temple dedicated to Christ built with stones, nor of animals being sacrificed inside it, nor of a priesthood dependent on belonging to the tribe of Aaron nor of a priesthood separate to the rest of the believers. 'God's own people' (9) are now those who belong to Jesus Christ (as set out in chapter 1). The language of the Old Testament, directly cited or indirectly employed makes the point that the people of God in the Old Testament are now redefined in terms of a new covenant.

Although Peter does not specifically use the word 'covenant' here (we read the Epistle to the Hebrews to find exposition of the redefined people of God in the context of 'covenant'), the idea is implied in talk of 'a chosen race ... once you were not a people, but now you are God's people' (9-10).

Theologically this is all very exciting. For a preacher, however, there could be some challenges.

Does the average person in the pew in an age when the Bible, seemingly, is less well known, find their world is rocked when told that they are 'a holy nation' let alone 'living stones'?

The challenge here, perhaps, is to focus on what it means to be God's people, perhaps even God's gang or God's team, to find language to communicate both what an amazing team it is to belong to, what an unimaginable price was paid so we could join the gang (see 1:18-19).

In many ways the remainder of Peter's letter is focused on what God expects of God's people and how they will live.

John 14:1-14

John presents us with Jesus drawing closer to his death. Is John himself drawing closer to his death as an old man? Has he shaped this account of Jesus' own will and testament to his disciples so as to speak to members of the Johannine community?

In these last hours of Jesus' life he sets out to communicate some important truths to the disciples who remain, at this point, uncomprehending of key matters in the revelation of God which Jesus has taught (see verse 8).

First, Jesus says that his disciples are not to be troubled in their hearts (1). They are to believe in God and to believe in Jesus. The future need not trouble them because Jesus has it in hand. He is going from them but for purposes which will benefit them (2-3). Most importantly, Jesus 'will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you will be also' (3, see Matthew 28:20).

We can easily imagine Thomas being quite confused by all this (5). Moreover he had no idea what kind of journey or place that Jesus was talking about.

Jesus is undeterred and remains focused on the theology he wishes to impart rather than yield to some kind of geography lesson! 'I am the way, the truth and the life ...' (6) In these words John sums up his gospel. Jesus is the way to the Father, the source of true truth and life lived abundantly for eternity. That is the message of the gospel and here and elsewhere the gospel does not back away from presenting Jesus as the one source of life and truth, as the one way to the Father.

What Jesus goes on to say, verses 8-11, also goes to the heart of the gospel and its message: Jesus is the way to the Father because when we see Jesus we see the Father (9) and we see the Father through Jesus because of their unique relationship, 'I am in the Father and the Father is in me' (10). This has been previewed for us in the Prologue to the gospel in 1:14-18.

There is an implication to this relationship of identity between Father and Son. What Jesus has been saying is not his own words, a kind of interpretation of the truth. No, it is the truth itself, Jesus can say 'I am the truth' because 'The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works' (10)

Interestingly 'words' at the beginning of the sentence in verse 10 is balanced not by a repetition of the word but by the use of 'works': Jesus has spoken by word and deed (i.e. the signs he has performed) all of which is the working of God in his life, giving Jesus the words to say and working through him the signs which direct people to the Father.

What is then reported to us, verses 12-14 carries an assumption that the one who believes Jesus is not an assenter to what Jesus says or a professor of loyalty to Jesus. The believer in Jesus is him or herself drawn into a relationship with Jesus similar to his relationship to the Father: the believer dwells in Jesus and Jesus in the believer (see also, for instance, John 6 or 15). Thus the believer can expect to the things that Jesus has been doing, if not greater things. Here John reflects something about the Luke-Acts composition in which the believers in Acts do the mighty works which Jesus did in Luke.

For ourselves we need to take care to understand the promises here carefully. Verse 14 within context does not mean that if I want a new car for Christmas I just ask and expect to get it (sometimes this manner of expectation is associated with the so-called 'prosperity gospel'). It means that when 'I am in Christ and Christ is in me' I should expect Christ to work in and through me as Christ himself once worked. When we pray for healing, people will be healed; when we command deliverance from demons, demons will be expelled; when we break bread amidst hungry people, hunger will be satisfied.