Sunday 25th October
SUNDAY SHORT REFLECTION;
‘He Really, Really REALLY won’t ever leave us alone!’
Text - Hebrews 13:1-6
Link to David’s Sunday 25th October Reflection video:
I sat listening to the radio last Monday -
Felt that sense of heart sink,
….. as the latest full lockdown was described by Mark Drakeford..
And it was as I reflected on it,
I was reminded of how I felt back in March -
the beginning of the FIRST full lockdown, that I had a rather powerful sense of trepidation -
Trepidation for the way that COVID might impact on my immune-compromised sons Sam and Michael -
worry for those folk in church who would find themselves physically at risk, AND SOCIALLY ISOLATED.
I believe that God gave me a specific God statement back in March-
One that I shared in the first lockdown church email I sent out.
‘I will never leave you, nor will I forsake you’
As I wrote this talk on Monday-
a day where we hear that we will be placed in another (if shorter) period of challenging lockdown,
I feel led to it again -
not just because of the symmetry -
but because of all the texts we have looked at since March,
= This is the one that has been quoted back to me the most in telephone pastoral chats -
Do you remember when you said ‘he’ll never leave you or forsake you’ David?
-I FELT HIM CLOSE IN HOSPITAL
-I FELT HIM CLOSE that day WHEN I FELT particularly TRAPPED AND LONELY INDOORS
-I FELT HIM CLOSE that time WHEN I PRAYED ‘help’
Last time i just shared the statement in Joshua,
and made the briefest of comments -
But this time I’ll reflect a bit more deeply -
and read it being quoted in a different part of the bible: Hebrews 13:1-6.
Jesus will never, ever leave or forsake us
= I HOPE AND PRAY,
….that it was GOD that was leading me down this Hebrews 13 road today
= because if so,
I ASSUME that that it isn’t just me that needs this reassurance again today.
...Because none of us knows what lies ahead,
trying to predict the future
IN OR OUT OF COVID TIMES -
is like trying to predict the weather
Actually I’ve got a good true weather story -
** - Emma suggested recently that I love to repeat anecdotes and stories
(Many’s the ‘oh, dad - not again) that is groaned at the dining room table as a regale the family with one of my oft used old chestnuts and “funny Dad stories” -
And I’m sure it’s the same with Pisgah (you’re just too polite to groan amid-service-
oh David, not that story again!!)
BUT THIS IS MY FAVOURITE real life ‘weather anecdote’ that I know I’ve used in a similar context before!
(Why waste a good story?)
Pembrokeshire is a difficult place to predict (weather I mean)
….but I’ve encountered a few local experts
But none as entertaining as the story I heard about a NORTH DEVON WEATHER EXPERT soon after I moved to the county
The story was told to me by a colleague who had been treated to a bit of AMATEUR WEATHER FORECASTING
He was on a dog walk, near his home in Holsworthy, when he met an old chap out walking his border collie in the lanes near his cottage
As usual in such chance meetings with relative strangers, the weather soon dominated their conversation
The chap made a few predictions about the afternoon to come, then came in close and said conspiratorially ‘do you wanna know my secret?’
"When the cows are standing, ... that means ... no rain ...for the next 24 hours….
…...When they are lying down, ... Well that means it is going to rain."
This wisdom was delivered with such great solemnity and gravitas -
that my colleague had to work hard not to let his skepticism show
But although he didn’t want to offend this kindly local character, he couldn’t help asking the obvious question -
“What does it mean when half the herd is standing ... and the rest are lying down?"
The farmer smiled, nodded sagely -
and replied with GREAT AUTHORITY
“That means that half of them are wrong!"
I’m going to predict YOUR future for the whole period of the pandemic period to come - and i am CONVINCED that I will be completely accurate -
And I’m sure,
because I’m only going to repeat what God has already stated
SO - I predict, and give you assurance, that GOD will be with you
For God declared "I will Never leave you ... or forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
One thing that caught my attention when I was studying this passage is that it was in quotations, which normally indicates that it had been stated previously in the Scriptures.
And it only took a few minutes in my BIBLE CONCORDANCE …
to see that it had been used many times before.
God stated this promise to the nation of Israel: BIBLE "The Lord himself goes before you ... and will be with you; ... he will never leave you nor forsake you. ... Do not be afraid;... do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:8)
Again God spoke these words to Joshua (as per my quote in March) as he prepared to lead God's people ... into the Promised Land.
"No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. ... As I was with Moses, ... so I will be with you; ... I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Joshua 1:5)
This promise appears to be a constant theme throughout the Old Testament - used by the prophets, psalmists and taken up again in the New Testament.
And it is echoed again - today - FOR US:
God will not leave you
………..God will not forsake you.
I’ve spoken to more than one person in the last 9 years since coming into ministry who have felt abandoned by God
Because - in a nutshell,
they assumed that Life would be be smooth sailing if God REALLY WAS with them
= when troubles came - THEY CONCLUDED THAT THEY HAD BEEN ABANDONED
JESUS - the one who promises be with us ALWAYS, also spoke candidly about the realities of life on this side of eternity in MATT 5:45
“Your Father who is in heaven .... makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, ......and sends rain on the just ... and on the unjust.”
...we don’t get preferential treatment,
But we do get preferential companionship!
WE DON’T GET A COVID UMBRELLA,
But we DO get a COMPANION,
...one who promises to lead us into a better future beyond this one
Paul is equally clear that CHRISTIANS SUFFER TOO (sometimes more)
…….but these sufferings WILL NOT steal our companion and his hope away from us
He says to the Roman believers:
"What then will separate us from the love of Christ? Will .... hardship, or distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword?"
SUFFERING is RUBBISH -
(I’d be tempted to use a stronger term if I wasn’t sharing this publicly)
...which is why our prayers are sometimes full of pain and hurt
But take heart:
God will never leave us or forsake us.
That statement is in vs 5 of our HEBREWS PASSAGE
Every bible translation is slightly differently worded
...but here is the LITERAL Greek translation -
"No, I will not leave you; nor, neither will I not utterly forsake you."
Often EXACT translations (word for word)
...aren’t used because they don’t flow well in ENGLISH
(= we can struggle to process them)
But ONE THEOLOGIAN - Adam Clarke, writes that there are times when it IS good to get a bit literal
= he notes that in the original Greek there are no less than five negatives, Literally it states:
"No, I will not leave you; no, neither will I not utterly forsake you."
Whats this this got to do with my talk?...
In the Greek language (Adam say’s), the more negatives there are in a sentence = the more emphatic that negative statement is.
If I say NO 5 times in a sentence -
= I AM SIMPLY EMPLOYING POOR and boringly repetitive ENGLISH
If I say NO 5 times in a Greek sentence
= I AM SIMPLY INCREASING THE STRENGTH OF MY STATEMENT
Basically Jesus is saying -
I will ... Never ... Never ... Never ... Never ... Never... leave you or forsake you.
Jesus is metaphorically reaching out, grabbing our shoulders and looking deeply into our eyes as he speaks to us through the scripture
Let’s go back to the start of our Hebrews text:
In the first verses of our text today ....
we as believers are encouraged to not neglect certain things.
- In verse 1 God says, "Love one another"
- In verse 2 He tells us: .... "Be good to strangers"
- Verse 3 - we are called to "remember those in prison"
- Verse 4 we are commanded to: "Honor our marriage vows ... and to not commit adultery”
- Verse 5 continues "Don't put your faith in money. Instead be satisfied with what you have"
Sociologists say that as LEGAL CITIZENS we all have RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES
…..(you can’t have one without the other in a good culture)
I suppose we all have rights and responsibilities as heavenly citizens -
those 5 verses are the RESPONSIBILITIES
and then at the end of the passage God declares that wonderful promise
“I will never leave you or forsake you”
God is asking his people to: "Do the right thing"
even when facing difficulties and even in the midst of frustrations.
…….even in the middle of a pandemic
“For I will never leave you nor forsake you”
BUT THIS IS ANOTHER ANECDOTE FROM MY LIFE THAT I HAVE USED BEFORE -
But it fits here.
When my son Michael was having a bone marrow transplant back in 2015,
I remember struggling emotionally.
I shared in church once that after a day in the BMT bubble filled with chemo skin pained screaming and the accidental dislodging of his central line (again) -
I felt at the end of my tether.
Emotionally and physically exhausted.
I remember feeling a bit grumpy with God -
A bit let down,
“Why are you letting Michael go through this?
Why are you letting me go through this?”
I hadn’t prayed for a few days -
….I just couldn’t formulate the words.
And then I sat on the toilet, in the bathroom adjoining the bubble.
Head in hands.
I prayed the shortest but most effective prayer of my life -
And it was then - unexpectedly,
That I felt the most incredible and tangible sense of god's presence.
I remembered the image of the shepherd God in ps 23 -
Not only walking through the green fields with his child,
…. but also through the dark valley.
The child (represented as the sheep - you and I), isn’t spared the journey, but he/she is accompanied and assisted.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
The child still has to walk the valley path BUT -
and this is the good bit,
they are not left in the VALLEY;
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Sitting on that toilet, in a BMT bubble in Newcastle, sick to my teeth with worry for Michael and a very long way from home -
...I felt like I had entered that psalm -
walking through the valley with the comforter beside me.
HE’d been there all along of course,
...BUT I HAD FINALLY LOOKED UP AND NOTICED HIM.
....PRAYED THAT MOST EFFECTIVE OF ONE WORD PRAYERS.
CS LEWIS was once challenged, on why life was so difficult, and why folks had to keep suffering even though they did what Christ asked of them
- "I didn't go to religion to make me happy.
- “I always knew a bottle of Port would do that” (Pause)
He went on …
“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, …
I certainly don't recommend Christianity."
LEWIS said that because he took Jesus at his word:
- you will not Always be comfortable ... or feel comfortable ... as a Christian.
(it rains on saints and sinners alike) - pick up your cross and follow me
BUT LEWIS WAS CLEAR WHY HE WAS A CHRISTIAN
because Jesus promised - "I will never leave you or forsake you.”
THE EXPERIENCE OF THE BUBBLE ALONGSIDE OTHER MOMENTS OF MY LIFE = HAVE TAUGHT ME NEVER TO DOUBT THE TRUTH OF THOSE WORDS.
I believe it with all my heart,
and it gives me the confidence to PROMISE you that HE WILL NEVER LEAVE NOR FORSAKE YOU either.
All you have to do is reach out and take the shepherds hand
Pray that simple prayer:
Sunday 18th October
SUNDAY SHORT REFLECTION; ‘Generosity isn’t just about giving’ -
Text - John 13:1-9
Link to David’s Sunday 18th October Reflection video:
It’s the harvest season-
We’ll hear the familiar harvest sayings spouted in churches, chapels and harvest school assemblies up and down the land -
‘Sow on good soil’
‘You’ll reap what you sow’
‘The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few’
‘It’s better to give than to receive’
...And my favourite: which is
‘the cry of the ministers wife as he fell into a pile of lettuces by the harvest table -
‘I think he’s having a ceaser’
(Ceaser salad,.. sorry).
Though it’s slightly better than the one about what happened to the man who fell into the combining harvester while running from the police -
He was bailed.
You might think they are shocking jokes -
What’s even more shocking is that they are easily the two funniest harvest jokes I have in my extremely limited store of harvest jokes!
I’d like to come back to the statement that Paul made in Acts 20:35 when he quoted Jesus -
“It’s better to give than to receive.”
That statement - in the context it was used (not being materialistically mean) is absolutely correct...
But it can also be misused i believe -
Or at least the sentiment behind it.
Speaking for myself, I’m the sort of person who feels more comfortable LISTENING to someone who needs a listening ear than SPEAKING to someone who is offering it.
How are you David -
“Fine thanks, how are you?”
There are other variants we use -
“You shouldn’t have”
“You really shouldn’t have gone to the trouble. “
“That’s too generous”
“You’ve got enough on your plate”
Declining someone’s help or generous offers -
Is that a quality (saving someone a chore)
... or is it, at some hidden level, a rejection?
A rejection of them, yes -
But how about the Jesus in them?
That’s the point I’m offering up for reflection today.
The ‘oh you shouldn’t have’ statements may be part of a well defined ritual of politeness and British etiquette -
But can they hide a certain level of pride as well?
In our John text today Jesus was responding to the disciples rather shameful debate about who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, by showing them what true greatness is.
The truly great are servant hearted.
And so Jesus shocked them all when he grabbed the bucket and foot cloth and began cleaning their feet.
Most appear to have been shocked into silence,
But not peter;
“No Lord, you shall never wash my feet, I can’t accept that”
...’No you shouldn’t have’
‘You really shouldn’t go to do much trouble.
‘My feet are fine thank you’
What did Jesus say?
= ‘if I don’t wash you, you are not in fellowship with me’
Would you have refused Jesus? - I remember this question being discussed in a bible study once, we all agreed that none of us would have refused Jesus in Peters place -
“Wash me clean Lord,
Take my dirty stain away etc”
But isn’t that what we sometimes do when we become so self sufficient and, yes, proud -
To ask for or accept help from one of his followers?
We read in
Galatians 2:20 -
‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’
Christ who lives in our brother or sister.
Whenever we refuse to lean on someone or accept their help -
Aren’t we potentially ‘doing a peter?’
Pulling our feet up in horror at the sight of the old foot bowl?
REFUSING HELP ‘from the Christ who lives in them?’
It may be better to give than to receive,
But sometimes receiving is a kind of giving -
Giving the gift of our LOVE:
-by Affirming the value of the giver
-by Affirming the value of their gift
-and putting aside pride as we give God the gift of our humility
Sunday 11th October
***Link to David's shorter video version of reflection:
Written Sunday Reflection for 11th October: ‘‘Another Jesus story to live out our faith by- FORGIVENESS’
Main reading - Luke 18:21-35
When Jesus came he told loads of stories -
That works for me, I like stories,
They engage me more than dryly presented facts.
Jesus used these stories/parables to get to get the fundamental truths across,
And sweep away some of the dross that people had built up -
The religious guff WE HUMANS ARE WORLD CLASS AT CREATING AND WEIGHING OURSELVES AND OTHERS DOWN WITH
Last week he put us straight on prayer -
Prayer isn’t about prose or style (popular perception)
.... it’s simple heartfelt conversation.
Which is why - in my opinion,
The best prayers I have ever heard spoken out loud came from the LIPS OF CHILDREN
This week we look at another fundamental truth - JUSTICE
Our concept of fair justice (eye for an eye, scales of justice, WE REAP WHAT WE SOW and all that) -
And maybe Jesus is asking;
... would ANY OF US survive in a ‘fair’ world like that?
I overheard a couple of nursing colleagues talking about somebody mentioned on the radio last week -
He had broken quarantine after returning from a foreign holiday and had been fined.
“He knew the rules,
One of them commented,
…...I don’t have any sympathy for him”.
I sort of agree,
….However I was also aware that the person speaking often ‘popped to the loo’ from our office,
...or nipped down the corridor to the car park without bothering to put her mask on
(Which is a rule in our workplace when you step away from your desk).
Would she have applied the COVID penalty as strictly to herself I wondered?
And speaking for myself,
…. I find it much easier to see ‘my’ faults in others than in myself.
Last week - I mentioned in Pisgah the former slave trader John Newton -
The man who wrote AMAZING GRACE -
He deserved punishment,
,,, but received forgiveness,
….,, AND HE WAS UTTERLY FLABBERGASTED
DOES GRACE MEAN THAT there is no price or consequence for wrongdoing??
NO - There IS a COST -
….and (in the economy of the kingdom of heaven)
……..it can be a TERRIBLE COST
But the DIFFERENCE from the WORLD’S WAY of looking at it -
= is WHO pays the cost
… = everything is turned upside down
although the WORLD'S WAY of exacting cost APPEARS SENSIBLE
(you owe, so you pay…)
…. = JESUS TEACHES US - it leads to a NEVER ENDING problem
Someone (or perhaps some nation) - hurts someone else = debt formed
PAYMENT/VENGEANCE is EXTRACTED for That debt (or grudge) - which is often painful
And so a NEW GRUDGE is formed (new hurt)
So more PAYMENT/VENGEANCE extracted
…...and on. And on. And on …..
Down the years sometimes,
Endless cycles of DEBT and RESENTMENT and HATRED…
(expressed down the pub,
...over the telephone,
…..even in presidential tweets and statements!)
I have been reading a book by a chap called KEN FOLLETT,
…called the FALL OF GIANTS,
...he cleverly explores the FACTUAL ROOTS of both world wars
...he expresses the opinion of most HISTORIANS,
…. = regarding the MASSIVE DEBT that Germany was forced to pay after WW1
(a kind punishment compensation for other nations losses)
The DEBT crippled the German economy for years,
...and made the living standards for ordinary Germans pitiful (under nourished children..)
APPARENTLY such were extreme levels of disillusionment and desperation,
…that the conditions were uniquely right for a man such as HITLER to rise to power
People who might have scoffed at HITLER in different circumstances,
….had become so DESPERATE and STARVED OF HOPE,
= that they were attracted to his BLACK and WHITE simplistic answers,
…..his talk of VENGEANCE and RENEWED GLORY began to appeal…
As somebody once said -
“In the desert a thirsty man will take any water that comes their way”
GERMANY was punished after WW1 Because it FELT RIGHT -
...some far-sighted people WARNED that it would further damage EUROPE in the future,
= but most people (widows and grieving parents in particular) -
…….understandably wanted some payback
This perhaps helps us understand a little better,
...why Jesus’ message of forgiveness was so hard for his listeners to swallow
FORGIVE? - what!
(what kind of reaction would Jesus have got if he had preached and taught,
in person - in the wake of WW1?
And yet his answer to putting an end to THE CYCLES OF HATE AND WAR,
….are all in HERE (bible)
BUT going back to what I was saying a moment ago….
= JESUS wasn’t denying the IMPORTANCE/ESSENTIAL RIGHTNESS,
………. OF A COST BEING MET
………..A DEBT SETTLED
Far from it!
And to make his MESSAGE even harder to accept,
….he seems to be suggesting that the INNOCENT NEED TO PAY THE BILL
It reminds me of the words from ROMANS,
…...that I will sometimes open our time of communion with:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”
JESUS helped us to see the REASON,
...for this rather ODD solution…
= it stops HATE cascading down the ages
= if the INNOCENT pay,
...then the GRUDGE isn’t passed on, and on, and on, and on….
Q - but how can such a thing be achieved?
I remember standing in a small terraced house in ROSLYN ST - Leicester
(the 1st home Emma and I shared together)
I was holding little BABY SAMUEL -
...I remember thinking that there was nothing he could do,
…….. that would ever make me stop loving him
In my imperfect, human way - I meant it - FELT it too…
The reason I felt BOLD ENOUGH ,
...to write a metaphorical BLANK CHEQUE,
….. = was because of what?
If RESENTMENT and CRIPPLING DEBTS,
…... were the perfect conditions for HITLER’S RISE TO POWER
…...is the necessary condition for FORGIVENESS to BECOME POSSIBLE
As I held SAM lovingly,
….so too GOD holds us (his children) in his loving arms
= LOVING and FORGIVING in equal measure (whether we deserve it or not)
I once heard a PREACHER,
tell of how he responded to being confronted after a service themed around forgiveness
The man was a SOLICITOR - a husband of one of his members -
...somebody who came to Chapel only ONCE IN A BLUE MOON
The solicitor shook the preacher's hand at the end (as you do)
...said he ENJOYED THE SERMON (as you do)
…...admitted that he wasn’t a believer (as you don’t!)
= and went on to explain - AS A MAN WHO PRACTICED LAW,
...that he ‘simply couldn’t accept the idea of the innocent suffering for the guilty’
The PREACHER replied:
“I feel sorry for you - for you can’t have a happy marriage, family, or any other lasting friendship or relationship”
Why not? - the solicitor said with strained friendliness…
= “because surely you’ll agree that - like all of us,
You are not perfect and you must make mistakes.
The only way that people close to you can keep accepting you is if they -
As innocent parties to your mistakes,
Will forgive your guilt and accept you.
But you just told me that you don’t believe in the innocent suffering for the guilty!”
(perhaps some preachers and a bit too clever for their own good!!)
The pastor said the man thought his argument over,
…. = and admitted that he had a point!!
We often think of the JEWISH RABBIS as being legalistic -
… = but even they conceded that everyone (all imperfect) need cutting some slack
=so they had what's referred to as ‘the rabbinical law of 3’ (3 chances)
PETER - obviously influenced by hanging around Jesus,
...suggested extending it to 7 X’s in our text today,
NO - Jesus answered: 7 X 70 (not an invitation to do your times tables or grab a calculator!!)
….he’s not suggesting a literal 490 x!
= he wasn’t really talking numbers -
...BUT rather the need for a FORGIVING HEART
IN SHORT = HIS LESSON ON FORGIVENESS IS NOT QUANTITATIVE,
P - A - U - S - E………
Forgiveness COSTS -
CHRIST, the innocent = pays our cost
Which is what THAT (point to cross) means
….which is why we have hung it in the central point of our chapel:
……. = to remind us
Q does it take the centre point in our hearts?
The COST of forgiveness is HUGE
…. = which is why the figure the man is let off is so EYE WATERING in the parable,
(such a big COST to the king who writes off the debt)
10,000 talents - (I looked it up to give us a sense of size)
Which was 50,000,000 denari -
Still doesn’t mean much until we convert it in today's costs
...Well - Apparently the average daily wage for a man in the 1st century was 1 denari
= so if the man was forced to work until he paid off the debt,
...it would take him 50,000,000 days
…..or = well over 142,000 years
(yes - I DID use a calculator!)
MOST IMPORTANTLY -
...Jesus is demonstrating that there is no conceivable way,
…..for the man in the parable to pay what he owes
Perhaps this gives us some small sense of the scale,
of his mercy to US
……..and the IMPOSSIBILITY of our ever having been able to pay it for ourselves
In the story (like OUR story too)
= only the innocent man can possibly pay the debt by writing it off - forgiving us
…..TAKING THE LOSS ONTO HIMSELF (the DEATH of his son no less)
THIS WOULD BE A NICE POINT TO END OUR TALK =
…’he was forgiven his debt and lived happily ever after -
……..now let’s sing a song and go home for Sunday lunch.”
AAAh - but there is a sequel…..
…..AND PERHAPS IT’S A BIT UNCOMFORTABLE FOR US...
I’ll cut to the chase -
...in the parable the man was FORGIVEN his MASSIVE DEBT
…..but he refused to do the same in his turn
SOMEBODY owed him FAR LESS than he had owed the king -
= but he sought him out,
…..grabbed him by the throat,
……..and demanded his money.
The poor chap couldn’t pay,
….so he had him thrown into prison -
EVEN THOUGH HE HAD BEGGED FOR MERCY
The KING hears of all this,
….and summons the ungrateful man, and makes a fair point;
“I forgave you all that debt because you begged me; should you not also have had compassion?”
JESUS DELIVERS THE PUNCH LINE (and it’s not the funny sort)
The unforgiving man received the same measure of judgement -
= that he himself had shown,
“So will my heavenly father do if you forgive not”
I asked earlier,
...if the message of the CROSS is as central in our HEARTS,
…….as it is in our SANCTUARY
Yes - The INNOCENT CHRIST has forgiven us -
...do we hold the 2nd part of his teaching equally to our hearts too?
= Do we who have undeservedly received forgiveness from God
….give to those who may not deserve it from us in our turn?
I remember teaching one of my son’s long ago,
…..the importance of sharing his xmas choccie out -
= sharing it out demonstrates how grateful we are to receive it
And so it is with us -
Christ gives us the ultimate gift - COMPLETE FORGIVENESS,
Will we let our judgemental hearts be challenged
…...will we share the forgiveness we’ve received with others?
Maybe you’d like to spend a few moments asking God to help you ‘pass on the grace’
That he has lovingly lavished on you
This hymn is all about grace, it’s called ‘second chance’ but in reality we experience 3rd, 4th, 5th……..,, chances.
Thank God for Jesus, the innocent man who redefined justice through grace. The innocent man who paid the cost.
Sunday 4th October
***Link to David's shorter video version of reflection:
Written Sunday Reflection for 4th October: ‘Mean what you pray’
Main reading - Luke 18:1-8
Of all the telephone topics I have been chatting about over these last 6 or so lockdown months,
I’d say prayer comes up the most.
Praying for an end to COVID,
...praying for endurance to cope with the social side-effects
….and of course no end of personal topics.
A number of conversations have reflected on the process of prayer -
And like snowflakes.
…. each person's approach seems individuals and unique
(WHICH MAKES SENSE - it’s relationship,
... two unique individuals interacting will inevitably form a unique dynamic)
There have been a number of people that I have spoken to recently,
who recognise that they are praying MORE THAN EVER because of our pandemic
for their own personal endurance to cope with the social side effects,
For those they care about but can’t see/visit
For the world as a whole
It seemed that prayer might be a useful place to start for our first ‘regular Sunday’ back at church…
But first a confession and a story:
I often think that my prayer life is like the little child in the nursery rhyme :
“When it’s good (prayer), it’s very very good, but when it’s bad its bad it’s rotten!’
I may be a minister,
...but sadly that doesn’t provide me with immunity against hypocrisy
And so, as always -
I preach first to myself before inviting you to sift these reflections and digest or disregard as you see fit.
and now for the story
In the late nineteenth Century, ‘old Dave’ was digging for gold in a South African river bed.
…..He had been at it for many years.
(Poor old Dave)
Every now and then he found a little bit of gold, not enough to make him rich –
…,, but just enough to maintain his interest.
The part of the river in which he was prospecting was quite new to him -
…,,and there were more signs than usual of the presence of gold.
He was quite excited -
.,,..,gripped by the gold fever, but, once again he found little of substance.
As his dig neared its end,
…,,he found himself exhausted and discouraged.
He was just about to go home one evening when he saw some pebbles - about a dozen.
He had a sling shot for killing small animals,
... these pebbles seemed just the right size,
…..,, so he slipped them into his old bag
There were about a dozen of them -
..The old man’s bag had a torn lining,
...and the stones were quickly lost and forgotten about
Another ten years went by and he still hadn’t made that gold strike that he had so longed for.
By now he was very old, and ill, with no ready money to pay for a doctor - he died.
A few days later the police came to his house.
They looked through his belongings to see if there was anything they could sell
To pay for his funeral,
…. but they found nothing of any value.
Even his house,
was just an old wooden hut falling to pieces.
And then they found the bag -
The bag that rattled slightly even though it appeared empty
As one of the officers ripped back the lining,
... he gasped with surprise.
"Look at this" he said to his partner.
...He was pointing to the pebbles the old man had placed in the bag 10 years earlier.
"They`re uncut diamonds!", he said,
..."They`re worth a fortune"!
The old Dave had INDEED been very rich.
But he had died thinking that he was very poor - ...because he hadn’t looked closely enough at what he thought were just ordinary pebbles.
He`d spent the whole of his life searching for riches,
... but had missed the FACT that those pebbles were the answer to his longings.
Some of us Christians have untold riches too,
…. that we neglect to tap into.
The Bible calls them “prayer”
Jesus was speaking to a group of people who had been taught to pray from theirs mothers knees as it were -
... why did they need a parable on prayer?
Well, it seems Jesus felt they lacked persistence.
Perhaps for some of them it had all become a bit of a religious habit,
... rather than a heartfelt conversation with their father God.
It seems Jesus was challenging their ‘commitment’ to (or even passion for) prayer,
...rather than accusing them of not actually praying.
In this morning’s gospel reading Luke 18:1-8, Jesus uses the parable of the Unjust Judge to get his message across.
I sometimes jot the first thing that comes in to my head on my sermon pad when I initially read a text,
“We should pray so we don’t lose heart.”
“Prayer is very precious to God.”
Sometimes I am lead to other related texts..
Like Revelation 8: 3 and 4 -
Where we see that there is only one thing of ours that will enter the throne room of God
- The prayers of the saints.
(That’s our prayers mark you –not our deeds)
Our prayers are equated with incense offered to God at the altar;
“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.”
“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.”
It is important to note what Jesus is not saying with the Parable of the Unjust Judge however,
He is NOT saying,
... that God is as parsimonious in answering prayer,
….,as the unjust judge was frugal in dispensing justice.
Judges were notoriously corrupt in Jesus’ day,
….. and my commentary writes that the implication of the parable would be that some rich person has bribed the judge not to give the widow justice –
...probably stopping her inheriting her husband’s estate.
Without the protection of a benefactor,
….the widow wouldn’t have any strings to pull.
Nor could she offer any kind of bribe.
Yet, in this parable, her persistence won through.
What Jesus is saying is -
If the Unjust Judge in this parable gives justice to the woman - surely God -
who wants to answer our prayers -
…...will even more so answer prayer.
I think there are three challenges we can take from this passage:
1. God is looking for people (nudge, nudge David*) who are persistent prayers.
2. He is looking for people (nudge, nudge David*) to be changed through prayer
3. He is looking for people (nudge nudge David*) who have time for him
*please feel free to swap your name for mine if appropriate!
Let us look at the first of these challenges:
God is looking for people who are persistent in prayer
The Jews in Jesus’ day,
limited prayer to three times a day,
...so that they wouldn’t wear God out by their pestering.
Sounds bizarre but it’s actually true!
...It’s isn’t in the bible but at some point it entered their long list of humanly generated religious rules
Thankfully Jesus taught quite the opposite:
= God is glad when we pray.
Actually the real danger is that we will wear out first.
….That we will run out of energy and give up praying.
It is worth noting that the woman came to the judge,
…. because she EXPECTED to win.
In other words,
….she had faith in receiving a fair judgment from the judge EVENTUALLY.
I suspect some of us don’t EXPECT God to answer prayer,
...and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Maybe Jesus was suggesting that the reason some of us don’t seem to get anywhere is because our motivation is suspect:
Let's consider this following question honestly before we go on:
= When we pray - why do we pray?
Do we see prayer as some sort of Divine insurance policy?
Is prayer something we do to appease an angry God?
Do we see it simply as a religious duty?
Like cleaning our teeth in the morning.
…..Somehow it is good for us?
In his writing on prayer , Martin Dale suggests:
‘So many people know God wants us to pray, but have no real idea why.
They certainly don’t think that God will ACTUALLY intervene on their behalf
Or do we pray because we think it makes us better people? -
I heard one Christian compare praying to weight lifting -
the more you do it the stronger you become.
That statement sounds reasonable at first hearing,
….but the more I think about it the more I feel cautious -
= I wonder how many people mix quantity up with quality?
There’s a danger in just babbling…
For those of you who know your Bible well,
...you may recall the attitude of the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:11-14.
There the Pharisee thought he was a cut above the Tax Collector,
….because he prayed and fasted regularly whereas the Tax Collector didn’t
The short, simple yet honestly passionate ‘forgive me I’m a sinner’ prayer,
... was praised over the long winded and rather insincere ramblings of the Pharisee.
2. The second challenge is that God is looking for people to be changed through prayer
What is real prayer?
= Prayer is the turning of a person to God
As it says in 2 Chr. 7.14
“If my people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
This sounds hard but -
If we don't repent (turn away from) our wrong ways and come in a humble attitude -
we can FORGET about PRAYING
That’s why we were taught in Baptist college,
..,, to always include a prayer of confession in our main service prayers
We see in the bible again again again that it is only when a man or a woman repents that God can really use him or her
We all know the story of the 18th Century, slave trader, John Newton.
Here’s the thumbnail life story -
He sold slaves.
He nearly lost his life in a storm and it was in that storm that he found God.
He renounced his evil, dehumanising ways and eventually became a vicar
He helped William Wilberforce in outlawing slavery in the British Empire.
He was one of the leading men of the Evangelical Revival in England.
it's not surprising, given his history, that he wrote "Amazing Grace".
….he knew he couldn’t be a Christian and yet stay as he was.
None of us are slave traders,
…,yet it’s as true of us as it was for John Newton = that we cannot stay as we are if we want to be Christians in more than name only.
That’s the bad news -
The good news is that if he can forgive a murdering slave trader,
... then no matter how much we despise ourselves,
….he can also forgive us
3. The third challenge is that God is looking for people who have time for Him.
Prayer is COMMUNICATION between God and us - as a man talks to his friend (Ex. 33:11)
Conversation needs to be two way. (DAVID M)
….We need time for private prayer with God.
Vicar Joel and I meet up for the first time in absolutely ages recently,
...we found ourselves reflecting on ministry generally together.
We both agreed that one of the greatest ironies of ministry was that we both found it harder to pray privately with God (as opposed to praying for others or out loud),
... than we ever had before we entered ministry!
Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel;
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”
“I tell you they have their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to the Father who is unseen. Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you”. (Matthew. 6: 5/6)
Jesus - after intense ministry- used to go away, even from his closest disciples to pray quietly.
Mark records the following in the life of Jesus:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and went off to a solitary place where he prayed”. (Mark 1:35)
If Jesus needed time alone with God,
...don't we even more?
We also need to LISTEN to the Voice Of God.
The Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah:
Hear me you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts. (Isaiah 51:7)
You will not hear the response from God until you
….LISTEN to Him.
As it says in the Psalms,
“Be Still and Know that I am God.” Psalm. 46:10
In the hustle and bustle of life –
we need to slow down –
draw aside -
and spend time with our heavenly Father
The three challenges from the parable in the Gospel reading this morning are:
1. God is looking for people who are persistent prayers.
2. He is looking for people to be changed through prayer and
3. He is looking for people who have time for Him.
May God have mercy on our feeble prayer efforts and help us develop our relationship with him through prayer as he draws us closer in relationship.
Our friend and PBA missioner Tim Longworth send me a link to this hymn last week, he said he had been struggling a bit and found this hymn a huge blessing. Perhaps it will bless us to: