Sermon: The people that walked in darkness.

Isa 9:1-4, 1 Cor 1:10-18, Matt 4: 12-23

I come from a family of church musicians. We would all sing in the church choir, and my Dad and brother played the organ. One of our favourite things to do before Christmas was to put the score for Handel’s wonderful piece “Messiah’ on the piano, with mum accompanying, and sing through it, as much as we could fit in between other facets of our day.

There is a wonderful bass solo, that my Dad and brother would sing – actually we’d all join in. ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!’ This is so ingrained in me that I have struggled so far today to resist breaking into song!

This text forms the bulk of our Isaiah reading, and in the Gospel Matthew tells us that in the coming of Jesus, Isaiah’s words are being fulfilled. Jesus himself doesn’t mention Isaiah here, but Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience who were familiar with the scripture, and who were looking expectantly for the Messiah.

Then Matthew sums up the shape of Jesus’ early ministry – ‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

These are not very specific words are they? I often find that when I am looking to the Bible for guidance, it can be frustratingly vague – sound familiar? The Message translation puts this verse another way: Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.

I think that is a good way of describing the effect of ‘seeing the light’.

But what does it mean for us, here, in New Zealand? What does it mean for this parish? Now, in some ways I am at a loss here, because I don’t know you yet, and you don’t know me. So I have to trust that what I am bringing you today is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Have you walked in darkness in your life? Have there been times when it just all seemed too hard, too depressing, as if nothing good ever happened?

I’ve certainly had those times in my life. I’ve walked in darkness, both through my own behaviour, and through some of the people I knew.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. Not just any light.

The phrase, “I have seen the light’ is a common way of describing having received a revelation, not just something with a certain number of photons, but a new understanding, that would stay permanently.

Well, if we’ve seen God at work, we have indeed seen a great light. The greatest light, the creator of the universe – Imagine what a great light the initial moment of creation must have been – astronomers can still see it, in the very depths of space, through the strongest telescopes. If we’ve seen God at work healing and delivering people, we too have seen this great light.

It’s all very well to remind ourselves that we may have seen this light, that we have had a revelation of Jesus, who he is, and what that means for us. But, just as a genius like Einstein cannot ‘undiscover’ his insights, so we too cannot walk away from having seen that light.

I think that’s what the Corinthian people must have been doing – remember our Epistle reading?

They had seen the light, they had had Christ revealed to them. And yet, they were reverting to walking in darkness, the darkness of dissension and grumbling, envy and worse. They were arguing about who was greater – those who had been baptised by this one or that. In our modern context we could liken this to … having received the Holy Spirit through the hands of this prophet or that – was it at New Wine or at a Bill Subritzky campaign?

You can see how relevant this scripture can be for us. We are reminded that when we have seen the light, it never truly departs from us, but we still have a choice. The people of Corinth were choosing to behave in an all-too-human way, trying to find a position of superiority over each other by their spiritual credentials. Pride was sneaking into the group, and insecurity was rearing its ugly head. I wonder who sent them there?

Paul reminds them, lovingly but rather sharply, that Christ’s is the only Gospel – it doesn’t matter who told them about it. Whenever dissent creeps into a group of believers, the enemy rejoices and rubs its hands, making a bigger wedge between the members of the body. For the sake of the united body of Christ – that sounds like a new church doesn’t it? Christians must not indulge in one-upmanship over each other in their journeys to faith. These journeys are our testimonies, and it’s wonderful to hear each other tell their story of how they got from A to B, but it can be a source of trying to top one story with another. Better to treasure these things in your heart, as it were, than use them for pride.

We can take this idea – a sense of non-discrimination perhaps – broader too. There are many diverse ways of worshipping, and all sorts of not-quite -lining up theology – and that’s just in the Anglican church! If the Corinthians were being urged to put aside their differences and celebrate the cross where Jesus triumphed over death once and for all, surely any gathering of Christians, for whatever purpose, should be a place where all can feel as if they belong, where there are no second-class citizens.

Let’s take another look at Isaiah. “You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy! I don’t know about you, but my joy is increased when I am with a group of Christians. I love being part of the family, the body, where you don’t have to explain what you believe. It’s better than being with biological family in many ways – we were at a family wedding last weekend, where the culture of our granddaughter’s friends, with their myriad tattoos, was very different to ours. Most of the people there had no time for church or Christ, and faith seemed completely irrelevant to them. I knew many of those people because we are related. But today I am here with you, and while I have met some of you briefly, I don’ know you as well as I know my husband’s relatives, but because you and I chose to be here today, we can assume a certain similar mindset when it comes to faith. Christians aren’t clones of course, and there may be many ways in which we have different angles for seeing things -probably as many ideas as there are people here! but the sense of the Body of Christ is strong.

Isaiah says that the people rejoice before God, as with joy at the harvest. Let’s always do that when we meet together, rejoicing before God that we are indeed loved, and that in Jesus we have seen this great light.

The final part of the reading tells us the reason for this rejoicing – the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of the oppressor has been broken.This yoke, this bar, this oppression is sin.And when the Corinthians allowed pride and comparing themselves to creep in, they were making a way for sin. They were forgetting that they, who had once walked in darkness, had indeed seen a great light.

May we too always keep in mind where we have come from, what Christ has delivered us from, and rejoice together in Jesus.

 

 

 

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Jabez re-written

1 Chronicles 4:10-“O that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!”

This is known as the Prayer of Jabez, and some years ago it was very popular. I came across it again recently when a visiting preacher spoke – Dr Charly Tom from Mercy Mission in India. He was very interesting, and brought up this idea of praying that God would enlarge our borders.

I started thinking about this – it’s easy to ask for God to enlarge our borders, but are we prepared for what may follow? Dr Charly has been running an oprhanage and school for many years, and is constantly relying on God’s provision to support his work.

But if we are really asking God to enlarge our borders – maybe for more ministry, or more to do to usher in the kingdom, we must not forget the next bit -“and  that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” If we are prepared to ask God for more ministry, we must also ask God for the support we need to back that up. God’s hand with us – that will open doors and provide our needs. Keeping us from hurt and harm is physical safety, but also spiritual protection.

If we only ask for God to enlarge our borders – or stretch the pegs of our tent, as another version has it- without asking for God’s provision and protection, we will be like bread dough, which we are trying to fit across the pizza pan. If we stretch it without first kneading it properly, it tears and gaps form, which let the sauce seep through. The pizza will stick to the pan and burn. We can be like that too – if we let ourselves be stretched without God’s provision, we too can break apart and burn out.

Perhaps we could reverse Jabez’ prayer – “God, let your hand be upon me, and keep me from hurt and harm, so that when you bless me and enlarge my borders I can work for your kingdom in the world.”

Living with the climate is cheaper: 50 to 1

The 50 to 1 Project site for more –

I heartily recommend this short video to you – it tells us why climate change should not be financially crippling our planet.

You may recollect some of the same information in our previous blog about Lord Christopher Monckton.

Viscount Monckton – The triumph of the individual over the hive mind

Some earlier posts on this site:

Deprivation & no climate change

Salvation in traditional vs green theology

Global warming takes a vacation

Global cooling from UN

Warmist injustice

How does God speak to you?

How does God speak to you? Does God speak to us? It would be great if we can hear an audible voice whenever we need guidance, but for nearly everyone, we don’t hear God speaking that way. What we do have is the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is the only book we are likely to read with the author available to pinpoint bits for us. Have you had the experience of reading a passage of the Bible, and a line jumps off the page at you, as if it is highlighted, or in 3-D? That is a common way for God to guide us. It’s different every time, with every reader, and you may have read the passage many times before, without that particular point striking you. God gives us what we need, if we are receptive and open to it, by ‘highlighting’ something. When we are listening to Scripture it can be like that too. We sit down (or stand) and prepare ourselves to listen to the reading, following along on the screen if it’s up there. Sometimes we can be distracted by the words being in a different version, but often we’ll discover that we’re not still tracking along with the reading. Something has stopped us listening, and we’re going off on a tangent. Noticing those points where we stop listening is a helpful way of becoming aware of God speaking to us. It’s as if God has put up a road-block for us, a diversion for our mind, and wants to speak to us through the diversion. Next time this happens to you, take note of what you had just heard before the ‘stop’ – think and pray about it, and ask God, what is it you want to say to me here?

547 and a half percent – Loan Orca loose

Guest post by Kevin O’Brien

I'm coming for your bacon at 547.5% annual rate.

I’m coming for your bacon at 547.5% annual rate.      Click to enlarge.

Let the borrower beware.

Once interest rates beyond 48% annualised were unconscionable, now in New Zealand, we have no limit. The Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003 is a national disgrace in removing the old restraints and general possible review of loan contracts by the Courts. The Act has smoothed commerce but it now putting smiles on the faces of the loan orcas ( like loan sharks but nastier) who are increasingly becoming more predatory. ‘Save My Bacon’ – a NZ loan company – may do anything but that if they call in external debt collectors following a default. They say they freeze the interest after 45 days before they renegotiate from there, with the amount repayable growing by a further 67% during that time. The daily interest rate is 1.5%. Depending on compounding the annualised rate may exceed the 547.5% (1.5%x365). Continue reading

Child poverty? Debt Menace?

Loan Shark Flyer

Loan Shark Flyer (Contact details hidden.)

There has been a lot of hand-wringing recently here in New Zealand about child poverty, citing the numbers of kids who go to school hungry, or with no lunch. The Opposition and the Church have joined an internationally driven campaign for higher wages, a ‘living wage’. But this campaign has some serious flaws in its New Zealand setting. Kev has already commented on this.

Children in themselves have no power to earn, so child poverty always should point to the adults who have left the child in this position. As local Mayor Michael Laws calls it, ‘piss-poor parenting’. Here I agree with him whole-heartedly. People who call themselves parents should have the brains and the drive, as well as the sense of responsibiity for their offspring to feed them properly, and provide the bare necessities at least. No, it’s not a matter of too little money on the benefit. We are on National Superannuation with little extra, and we manage to feed and clothe everyone adequately.

But this is because we do not waste our resources.

I believe that much of the ‘child poverty’ in New Zealand is because of terrible choices made by parents – choices that involve spending scarce money on cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. This country has a really bad record for the normalisation of gambling, even in the kindergartens where the fund-raising raffle is an annual fixture.

But there is another menace in the neighbourhood, that even further preys on poor families, this time targetting the Polynesian community in particular. There was a flyer put in our letter box yesterday, advertising loans –  $1000, to be repaid at $50 per week, for 8 months. Continue reading

A world view

Haves and haves not    - Courtesy of NASA 2012

Haves and haves not – Courtesy of NASA 2012                                    (Click image to enlarge)

This introduces our new Global issues page. Selected articles will appear as posts but will be linked and kept indexed on that page.

This is a clever composite by NASA showing the world through the evening hours taken from about 800km (500m) above the earth. Africa is in the centre.Do you notice how dark Africa is? That’s not because nobody wants electricity. It’s because the environmental ‘police’ refuse to allow Africa to develop her natural resources, such as hydro, because of the impact it might have on wildlife. The only development allowed is that by outsiders, who end up taking the land. ( see next post)

Meanwhile, people use open fires inside their little houses to cook their food. Many babies fall in and are killed or maimed every year, and  people suffer eye diseases as a result of the smoke.

As Christians we have a responsibility towards our fellow human beings in Africa. Next time you switch on a light, think about them, and what you can do to challenge the anit-human pro-environmental policies that the world green police are imposing on these people.

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Injustice in Equality: churches promote inflation.

Guest post by Kevin O’Brien, retired Charted Accountant and former consultant to the Government of (then Western) Samoa. (Reposted from 18 Feb 2013 with tags.)

 

The living wage claim imbroglio has done us good in having to examine wages and living costs: I am not so sure it has done us right. It took a bit of looking to find the paper setting out the claims to a “living wage” of $18.40/hr; they were not on the Anglican Church Family Centre web site [1], in whose name they were, but on the Living Wage NZ site who commissioned them. [2]

The claim then is political – a creature of the unions and the ultra left greens with the churches donning social-justice robes and blessing all, other than those who ultimately have to pay. The politics of envy are writ large: bosses and others must be richer, so they can pay, to match our spending aspirations. If the boss class hasn’t got it, then the Government must have. Someone needs to pony up to satisfy our unrequited hunger for more.

I suspect there is sin somewhere in the midst of this. Is it right to heavy employers, a.k.a. bosses, to pay more when no more is going to come their way to meet the extra demand? Is it right to set demands for pay in excess of minimum reasonable needs? Is it right to pay a single 18 year old straight from year 13 at high school the same hourly rate as an experienced single worker, or one a few years further on who has a spouse, and the population replacement minimum 2 children, the same hourly rate also? If justice is about balance where is it here? Are ability and contribution of a worker to producing residual income to be ignored? Continue reading

Injustice in equality, Churches promote inflation

Guest post by Kevin O’Brien, retired Charted Accountant and former consultant to the Government of (then Western) Samoa.

The living wage claim imbroglio has done us good in having to examine wages and living costs: I am not so sure it has done us right. It took a bit of looking to find the paper setting out the claims to a “living wage” of $18.40/hr; they were not on the Anglican Church Family Centre web site [1], in whose name they were, but on the Living Wage NZ site who commissioned them. [2]

The claim then is political – a creature of the unions and the ultra left greens with the churches donning social-justice robes and blessing all, other than those who ultimately have to pay. The politics of envy are writ large: bosses and others must be richer, so they can pay, to match our spending aspirations. If the boss class hasn’t got it, then the Government must have. Someone needs to pony up to satisfy our unrequited hunger for more.

I suspect there is sin somewhere in the midst of this. Is it right to heavy employers, a.k.a. bosses, to pay more when no more is going to come their way to meet the extra demand? Is it right to set demands for pay in excess of minimum reasonable needs? Is it right to pay a single 18 year old straight from year 13 at high school the same hourly rate as an experienced single worker, or one a few years further on who has a spouse, and the population replacement minimum 2 children, the same hourly rate also? If justice is about balance where is it here? Are ability and contribution of a worker to producing residual income to be ignored? Continue reading