Humility

Click here to listen to this 11-minute message.

God calls us to humility – in our relationship with God, and in our relationship with other people.

Luke 18:9-14 gives us the parable of the pharisee and tax collector, both at prayer.

  1. The pharisee – a person who was devout, religious, righteous, obedient to God’s laws – stands and prays loudly about how wonderful he is and thanks God for not making him like those ‘other’ people (explicitly mentioning the tax collector). Jesus says that this person will not be justified before God, and that people like that, who exalt themselves, will be humbled.
  2. The tax collector – a person who was regarded as dishonest, extortionist and reprehensible, and who Jesus often refers to when talking about sinful people – hides away in a corner, cannot look up towards heaven and can pray only, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Jesus says that this person will go home justified before God, and that a humble person like this will be exalted.

Clearly, God calls us to humility – both in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people.

Of course, this ‘humility’ is not about self-denigration or having a poor self-esteem or negative self-image. Paul says clearly in Romans 12:3 that humility is about assessing our strengths and weaknesses honestly and accurately: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”

In our other reading for today – Hosea 5:13-6:6 – there is a dialogue between God and Israel:

  1. God observes that when Israel was in need, instead of turning to God, they turned for help to people who did not know God. Therefore, God sent suffering to them, to help them admit their guilt (i.e. to humble them) and until they sincerely sought God’s face.
  2. Israel then reflects that the suffering they have experienced is justified, and that despite God’s anger towards them, God will nevertheless heal them and bind up their wounds. They long to be revived and restored and to live in God’s presence. Twice they say, “Let us acknowledge God” – that word ‘acknowledge’ in Hebrew means ‘to know’ (as in knowing  a fact), but also as in knowing or discerning something not obvious (such as the truth of someone’s intentions), and is used as a euphemism for sex (as in, Adam knew Eve and she fell pregnant). Israel desires to be humble before God and to truly and intimately know God.
  3. God, the exasperated parent, responds positively. God reminds them that God’s desire is for mercy (hesed, meaning steadfast love and compassion) and acknowledgement (that ‘knowing’ word again), far more than empty religion (sacrifices and burned offerings).

Clearly, God calls us to humility – both in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people.

2019.03.30_Kneeling-in-Prayer_Rippelmeyer

Feature image ‘Kneeling in Prayer‘ by Nadine Rippelmeyer (2006)

Persevere in Faith

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 20 minute sermon.

Sometimes our faith flags – God seems absent, silent, unresponsive; our hearts feel dry and dusty; we are thirsty, but barely know we’re thirsty. Sometimes the world around us presses in and squashes our faith – the demands are so great, so burdensome, that it is hard to remain connected to God. Sometimes people say things or we witness or experience things that shake our confidence in God – how could a good God allow these things to happen, how can a rational person believe in God?

All of us experience ups and downs in our faith journeys. We are, though, encouraged to persevere in our faith through the dry times, in the hope that better days will come. Today, here in Pretoria, South Africa, we are experiencing our first real rain after the long dry winter. What a blessing when the rains finally come! The ground sucks it up and brings new life. What a blessing it is when God’s Spirit falls afresh on us after a period of drought!

This sermon speaks about persevering in faith – about hanging on to God, about clinging to the Word of God, about staying in touch with other Christians. It is about continuing to walk in faith, even if not in feelings or experience, praying that God will rekindle our faith, restore our hope, bring the fresh rains.

It draws on four readings:

  • Luke 18:1-8 – “Always pray and never give up”
  • 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5 – “Continue in what you have learned”
  • Jeremiah 31:27-34 – “God’s Law is written on our hearts”
  • Psalm 119:97-105 – “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet”

Love, peace and fresh rains
Adrian

Tithing

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 25 minute sermon.

Money is a touchy subject for many Christians and particularly in some Christian denominations. In our church, our giving is extremely private – our financial contributions are known only to ourselves and one other person (the dedicated giving recorder, who keeps a record of monies received). So discussing money is sensitive.

In this sermon I map out four principles of money matters in the church, on the premise that our thinking about money is in need of transformation. Paul says that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we can test and approve God’s will. Finance is an area in need of transformative, sanctified thinking.

  • The first two principles speak to how we think about our own money:
    • Everything we have belongs to God
    • God has entrusted everything to our care and for our use.
  • The second two principles speak to how we think about giving:
    • Our giving should be in proportion to what we have
    • Our giving should emanate from our confidence in God’s trustworthiness

I advocate a particular position on the ten percent tithe that not everyone will agree with. As it is, tithing is hotly debated in the church. I think that my position is aligned with Jesus’ approach to Old Testament Law. Listen and see what you think.

When all is said and done, we have a unique opportunity to participate with God in God’s great work in the world. One of the ways of participating is through our financial giving. What a privilege to partner with God in the work of bringing into being God’s Kingdom on earth!

Love and peace
Adrian

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ (according to Mark)

Pietà, by Giovanni Bellini (1505)

Click here to listen to the podcast of the Passion of Jesus Christ, according to St Mark.

Holy Week (from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday) climaxes today (Good Friday) as we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. It is the high point, or perhaps more accurately, the low point of the Christian year, because it is through Christ’s death that God’s works God’s ultimate act of salvation and redemption. It is also the day when our hearts break, because it is we ourselves who put Jesus there.

It is tradition in the Anglican church to read the whole passion narrative on Palm Sunday, and this post links to a recording of that reading that I did in 2012. It is taken from J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament, a translation (actually, a paraphrase) that I find fresh and beautiful. It is the whole of Mark 14 and 15, starting with the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and ending with Jesus’ burial – 22 minutes of recording (click here).

I am also uploading a reflection on Holy Week that I prepared a couple of years ago, but have not previously shared here. Particularly for those who do not observe Holy Week, I hope that this may give you new and helpful insights into this important period in the life of the Christian. It is a written document, which you can download by clicking here.

My prayer is that over these last days of Lent, we will rediscover the meaning of Christ’s death for ourselves and for the world, that we will mourn and repent, and that we will experience new life with Christ in his resurrection on Sunday.

Love and blessings
Adrian

The Path of Jesus – A Path of Martyrdom & Death?

Click here to listen to the podcast of this 20-minute sermon.

On his way to the cross, Jesus said that we must hate our life in this world, that like a grain of wheat we must die, and that we must follow him on his journey to the cross (John 12:20-26). This seems to set us up for a path of martyrdom and death, a dark and twisted path. This was a path that many Christians in the early church followed – we read, for example, Ignatius of Antioche pleading with the Church of Rome in about AD107 to not save him from being martyred, eulogising and glorifying the path of suffering and death as the path mapped out by Christ and as the only means of his salvation.

If ‘the path of Jesus’ is a path of martyrdom and death, and if we are called to walk in his footsteps, then we too must become martyrs. Over the centuries this path has been used, for example, to exhort women to remain submissive in abusive marriages – they have the opportunity to suffer as Christ did, they have been told by Christians, and to do so without a word as Christ did. Is this really the path of Christ? Is this really what it means to walk in his footsteps?

All this raises fundamental and, to be honest, rather scary questions about God’s salvation plan: Did Jesus come into the world in order to die? Was it God’s intention – God’s desire – that Jesus should die? Was it always God’s plan that Jesus would die? Could salvation be found nowhere but through Christ’s death? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, then we indeed have a dark message of salvation. And Christian discipleship is itself a dark path.

But in this sermon I want to suggest a different way of thinking about God’s intentions and desires. A different way of thinking about the place of Jesus’ death in God’s masterplan for the salvation of the cosmos. You may not agree with my conclusions – feel free to disagree! But perhaps a new look at Christ’s path will be helpful for all of us. Perhaps this will give us new insights into God’s love for us and God’s investment in our salvation. And perhaps this will open up a Path of Jesus that is truer to God’s deepest intentions.

Which Way are You Going?

Repentance

Click here to listen to or download the audio recording of this message.

Often, in the busyness of life, we just go on. We walk the same way we walked yesterday. We go through the motions. We just do what needs to be done. We are not especially purposeful in how we live. We often don’t really think about the direction we are taking, and whether this path will lead us closer to or further away from God. This can be a dangerous way of living – like a zombie. And so the Apostle Paul says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

So, God calls us to repent. Repentance does not mean to beat yourself up. Rather it is about turning away from sin and death and turning towards God and life. It is about choosing to live in a way that rejects darkness, and embraces the light. It about giving up the negative things in life and taking up the positive. It about turning our back on the devil and walking towards God. It is about salvation!

God stands always with open arms and says “Come! Come, all you who are thirsty; come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Listen! Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on you. Turn to God, for he will freely pardon” (from Isaiah 55:1-7). God gives second, third, fourth chances – he is infinitely patient. God does not coerce or force – God invites and waits.

We need to challenge ourselves with this question – which way are we going? Are you walking towards sin and death? Or are you walking towards God and life? Such an important question, particularly during Lent – Which way are you going?

In this audio message (click here) we unpack this idea of turning away from death and turning towards life.