The Parables of Jesus - ii. Seeds, Weeds and Explosive Growth

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Matthew 13:24-43

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Jesus continues to tell three parables about the Kingdom of God: the wheat and the weeds with an explanation to follow, the mustard seed and yeast.  Whether Jesus told these parables in this precise order is a moot point.  Matthew writes to a predominantly Jewish order and he collates his material accordingly to stress the primacy of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching. 

The Kingdom cannot be equated with the church, a mistake Augustine made in his interpretation which led to very grave consequences.  The church in the Middle Ages became a coercive agency, relying on power and control.  Constantine, the first ‘Christian’ emperor of the Roman Empire established a state church.  He is reputed to have offered defeated opponents in war a choice, be baptised or be drowned!  Little wonder that the church became a compromised body with nominal allegiance by many.  The Crusades in attempting to impose Christianity by force on Islam had disastrous consequences, compounded by Islam’s equating the gospel with western culture.

The Parables of Jesus - i. How do we hear?

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Matthew 13:1-23

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Jesus was a masterful teacher who captured the imagination of his hearers through the use of parables, described as stories with a sting in the tale, striking home unawares.  Filled with everyday illustrations, the surface meaning hides a sucker punch.  Whilst not unique to Jesus, parables in his hands have coined universal phrases like ‘turning the other cheek’, ‘going the extra mile’ and ‘being a Good Samaritan’ to name but a few.

 Context is vital to the right understanding of a story, not least a parable.  It may well have a disturbing, cutting edge especially if conflict and confrontation is in the air.  In this context Jesus’ enemies accuse him of being in league with Satan, and his immediate family are concerned about his mental state.  So faced with direct opposition on the one hand and familiarity bordering on contempt on the other, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower.

The Real Transformer

Preacher: Lincon Hardouin

Verses: Jeremiah 24:1-10

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The year was 2007. In my humble opinion, it was the year that one of the greatest movie franchises came to life for me. With the release of the first movie in the franchise, I was so excited to see characters of my childhood cartoon days come to life in a relatable, albeit, a farfetched and highly exaggerated movie. Of course it must be said that the movie I am talking about is somewhat of an action movie but at the same time, it has humour, a bit of romance and a whole lot of nerdy and geeky aspects. The entirety of this particular franchise revolves around the concept of alien robots that come to earth, robots that have the ability to transform from their almost “human-like” states into cars, or trucks, motorbikes, jets and even helicopters. And even then, they are not limited to a particular form, they can change into any mode of transport they so desire. For me of course, if I had that ability, I for one would become a Redbull F1 car, but that’s just personal preference. But as all good action movies should have, there are two factions within this alien race, there are the good guys and there are the bad guys. The age of the transformers was upon us, and after 12 years, 6 movies, countless man-hours of preparation, screenwriting and scripting, hours of recording and re-recording, editing, and of course the watching of some of the most amazing battle scenes and quirky moments, it became clear from the very beginning that the good guys were always going to win.

Who is my neighbour?

Preacher: Gordon Hay

Verses: Isaiah 6:1-8, Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 25:35-40

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The main point this morning: Your love for God and your love for other people cannot be separated.

Three aspects:

1.    Who is your neighbour?

2.    What does the Bible say?

3.    What is our challenge?

…oooOooo…

You are the one to show mercy.

“Here am I. Send me!”[1]

When I studied law I learnt of a case about a snail in a bottle of ginger beer. Mr Stevens the manufacturer was sued after a Mrs Donoghue of Paisley who drank the ginger beer became ill. It became known as the “Paisley snail” case.[2] The case was heard in 1932 and decided in favour of Mrs Donoghue by the House of Lords holding that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her. They held this because they felt that it was reasonably foreseeable, that the failure to ensure the product’s safety could lead to harm to consumers.  

What interested me was the reasoning of Lord Atkin in deciding which group of persons might have a claim.

[1] Isaiah 6: 1-8

[2] Paisley Snail. Paisley was also the site of an incident that gave rise to a major legal precedent. In a Paisley cafe in 1928, a woman allegedly found a dead snail in a bottle of ginger beer, and became ill. She sued the manufacturer for negligence. At the time a manufacturer was considered liable only if there was a contract in place with the harmed party. However, after Donoghue v Stevenson wound through the courts, a precedent was established that manufacturers (and other "neighbours" or fellow citizens) owe a duty not to do foreseeable harm to others by negligence, regardless of contractual obligations, which paved the way for modern tort law. The case is often called the "Paisley snail."

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love v. Preparing for the Great Day

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 2:17-3:5

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Malachi doesn’t pull his punches.  He tells the people of his day, “You have wearied the Lord with your words”.  Their warped concept of justice sees them accuse God of inconsistency at best, deceit at worst.  Because they doubt the love of God, the Israelites resort to keeping up religious appearances, devoid of reality, simply going through the motions.  They place God in the dock and ironically blame him for their present state of despair and futility.  They refuse to accept responsibility and simply desire to save face, not unlike the role players involved in the explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine in April 1986.  It was the height of the cold war and the Soviets were determined to preserve their perceived scientific superiority over the West.  However, cutting costs and high-handed authority led to the disaster that affected multiple thousands of innocent people.  The recent docu-drama ‘Chernobyl’ depicts a brave Russian nuclear scientist hold the state accountable with his chilling words “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth.  Sooner or later that debt is paid”. 

Breaking the sacred and secular divide

Preacher: Gordon Hay

Verses: Isaiah 6:1-8 and Romans 12:1-2

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When growing up I had the idea that my life in church, and my life outside of church, were two different worlds.

Going to church with my parents, I realised quickly that it was a time to be neatly dressed and to be on one’s best behaviour. It was a time when people seemed rather serious. It was clearly very special, but different to the everyday life that we lived on the other days of the week. I understood this to some extent. On Sundays we were in church to worship our mighty God. This required proper behaviour. There was after all, plenty of time to relax during the other six days of the week.

Looking back, I perhaps had the idea that it was only on Sundays that we worshiped God, prayed, sang hymns and practised our faith life.

It seemed to be okay to relax during the week and to play around, and do things with my friends that might not be appropriate for Sunday.

The Generation Game

Preacher: Lincon Hardouin

Verses: Psalm 119:89-96

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This is such an incredible Psalm to read. It is of course the longest of all the Psalms, described as “a devotional on the Word of God.” It is so gripping and so beautiful seeing how this Psalm highlights and should causes us to think about 4 things: the word of God should become the word of life, humbly acknowledging the sinful ways of hearts, to know the pain as well as the fruits of God’s corrective discipline, and that there will be suffering at the hands of those who disregard the word of God. And what we will look at this morning is but a small portion of this amazing devotional.

Pentecost Sunday - The Holy Spirit for Today

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Acts 2:1-13

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“Wherever one looks in the church today, there is an evident need for a deeper work of the Holy Spirit.”  Those prophetic words written some forty years ago by John Stott are even more pressing today.  The church in the West is tolerated but hardly embraced by a society which is pluralist and permissive.  The church in the majority world is growing rapidly but, more often than not, it is marred by shallow teaching and factions not to mention the cult of personality and the so-called ‘health and wealth’ gospel which by-passes the cross and flatters only to deceive.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love iii. Mouthpiece for God

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 2:1-9

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“The eye is the window of the soul” is a familiar saying.  However, Malachi addressing the priests of his day argues that the mouth is the window of the soul.  Jesus echoes this sentiment, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt 12:34).  Malachi took the priests to task for failing to fulfil their primary calling, viz. faithful teaching of God’s Word. 

 The novelist John Updike, no friend of the gospel, in his novel Run Rabbit describes a young minister Rev Eccles, “With his white collar he forges God’s name in every sentence he speaks...  He steals belief from the children he is supposed to be teaching.  He commits fraud with every schooled cadence of the liturgy.”  John Updike may well have taken his words straight from Malachi 2400 years ago.  Malachi sounds strident and harsh to our modern ears.  We prefer a kinder, gentler faith.  But extreme times require extreme measures.  The priests looked the part.  They wore the right vestments.  They recited prayers.  But they were lifeless.  Platitudes devoid of passion.  They bent the truth and corrupted their ministry.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love ii. A Call to be Real

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 1:6-14

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Malachi holds the priests responsible for the spiritual malaise of Israel.  Well might he add, in a contemporary context ‘as the pulpit, so the pew’.  Three means of revelation saw the priests responsible for Worship, the prophet for the Word from God, and the sage for Wisdom.  Worship, Word and Wisdom maintained the religious ethos of Israel, and all three areas, particularly worship were in a parlous state with devastating consequences for the nation as a whole.

 Integral to Israel’s worship was the sacrificial system both mandatory (the sin and trespass offering) and voluntary (the grain, drink and peace offering).  The sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to the perfect and final sacrifice of Christ.  As such they had to be unblemished and perfect.  However, the priests colluded with the people in presenting second-rate sacrifices, an insult to God which defiled worship.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love i. A Call to Respond to God's Love

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 1:1-5

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Cynicism is devastating.  The default mode of despair and disillusioned people, it robs one of enthusiasm, commitment and energy.  This was the situation confronting Malachi.  Circumstances, opposition and adversity had all but destroyed Israel’s assurance of God’s presence and provision.  Their homeland had been devastated by the Babylonian invasion, the temple destroyed and most of the population had been exiled.  And now through Persian intervention, the people were beginning to return.  The temple had been rebuilt under Haggai but the city walls remained a ruin.  Even more galling, their neighbour Edom, descendants of Esau, had escaped unscathed.  They had prospered whilst Israel suffered.  The fact that Esau had cheated Jacob of their father Isaac’s blessing added insult to injury.

Risen Indeed!

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 24:1-12

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In the days before television, a radio programme ‘Consider Your Verdict’ fascinated me.  The listener was required to evaluate evidence presented and whether one’s verdict coincided with that of the court.  It made for entertaining ‘theatre of the mind’.  The evidence for the resurrection transcends the realm of entertainment.  It demands a verdict.  “The message of Easter is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax” argues Prof J.N.D Anderson.  It is literally a matter of life and death not just a comforting story.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God.” (1 Cor 15:14,15)

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - xi. Christ our Sanctuary

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 9:1-28

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The writer of the Hebrews depicts Jesus resplendent in majestic glory.  He attempts to describe the indescribable.  No visual image will suffice.  This presents a creative challenge for us today.  One social critic has described our contemporary world as having shifted from the Age of Exposition in which the written world prevailed to the Age of Entertainment in which image trumps words.  Lines have been blurred.  Confusion parades as creativity.  Comprehensive descriptions of reality are regarded as suspect.  Our postmodern world has come of age in which a multiplicity of ‘truths’ (small t) have replaced ‘Truth’ (capital T) reminiscent of Pontius Pilate who asked ‘What is truth’ and did not wait for an answer.

 That notwithstanding, Hebrews is quite content to describe Jesus as God’s final word. (Heb 1:1,2).  Various metaphors are used – Jesus as high priest, an anchor for the soul, the guarantor of a new covenant, culminating in Jesus as our Sanctuary, the one who offers forgiveness and a clear conscience.  “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God” (v14).

 

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - x. The Matchless Christ

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 8:1-11

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Recently the State President exhorted us to view South Africa, with all its present challenges and opportunities from the perspective of a glass half full rather than a glass half empty.  He offered the country hope based upon a social contract between government and people.  The writer of Hebrews, in contrast, offers hope not by way of a social contract, but a covenant based upon the promise of God.  In light of this perhaps we need to ask ourselves what hope is not.  Hope is not based on the ‘power of positive thinking’ as Norman Vincent Peale advocated.  Hope is not a pious Pollyanna wishing things would get better.  Hope according to Hebrews is choosing to believe and trust when everything around me and within me suggests that it is foolish to do so.  Hope is not simply human aspiration, rather taking hold of the presence and power of God in the midst of human frailty. 

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - ix. The Sufficiency of Christ

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 7:11-28

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We live in an age when language is used quite loosely.  Words like great, wonderful, brilliant, awesome abound.  The problem is when we use superlatives to describe the routine and ordinary, language like currency loses its value.  This was the issue faced by the writer of the Easter hymn “O sacred head how wounded”.  He asks, “What language shall I borrow to praise you dearest Friend?”  it is a remarkable question, which deserves close attention and which the writer of Hebrews attempts to answer in the passage before us. 

Jesus is indeed unique, one of a kind, the God-man.  He sets the Christian faith apart from any other religion.  He is the one who seeks, searches and saves.  And having done that, he is the one who prays continually for us.  The writer of Hebrews is quite justified to use superlative language to describe Jesus who “truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart, exalted above the heavens” (v26).

Identity Formation

Preacher: Lincon Hardouin

Verses: Romans 6:1-14

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Most people have never thought about the fact that from a very young age, some suggest as early as 3-4 years old, we start developing an “identity”.  Identity is described as being a combination of different and distinct parts of a person, be it genetics, culture, language, gender, family, etc. coming together to form who we are at this very moment. And yet, we need to realise that our identities are always evolving. This is because identity is shaped, established and influenced by any number of different things within this life. For example, part of my identity is found in my nationality as a South African.  Part of my identity is found in the fact that I am the second born in my family.  Part of my identity is found in that fact that I am English speaking. Part of my identity is founded upon the way in which people have affected my life and in the way in which I have affected theirs, whether in a positive or a negative way.  Of course, this list could continue for the next few hours and I don’t think anyone wants to sit here until 1:30.  But the point is this, no single person is the same in terms of identity as they were say 10 years ago, and no single person is exempt from these changes whether we know they are happening to us or not.  It’s often only over an extended period of time that we even realise that we have changed.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - viii. An Anchor for the Soul

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 6:13-20

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The writer of Hebrews is an astute pastor concerned about the spiritual well-being of his readers.  He uses sound biblical theology to encourage them, some of whom were tempted to abandon their faith as part of a beleaguered Christian community and revert to the relative safety of organised religion recognized by the Roman state such as Judaism or a variety of mystery religions.  Having written about the snare of drifting and the danger of hard hearts, he exhorts his readers to experience Christ who offers “hope as an anchor for the soul” (v19a), as an antidote to despair and discouragement in the midst of difficulty and hardship. 

Jesus as our high priest who has “entered the heavens” is not simply a “go between”, representing humanity before the divine; he has pioneered the way into the Father’s presence through his sacrificial death and resurrection.  This assurance is the bedrock of faith on which we withstand temptation and the assaults of the devil.  The resources to do so are not found within ourselves as we look inward, but outside of ourselves as we look to Christ.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vii. Our Great High Priest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

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The word ‘better’ occurs some seventeen times in the New Testament, thirteen of which occur in Hebrews alone.  Whilst in one sense the majestic Jesus is incomparable being the unique Son of God, God through him “planned something better for us” (11:40).  The passage before us describes Jesus as a better high priest.  The writer draws on the history of Israel in the wilderness and the role of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement offering sacrifices on behalf of the people and himself in the Tabernacle.

 The focus is not simply on the person and work of Jesus on earth, the empty cross and the resurrection, but the ongoing work of Jesus as high priest, having passed through the heavens as the human high priest passed through the curtain in the Tabernacle into the holy of holies to make atonement for sin.  This is the main point of the passage, indeed the whole of the book: Jesus’ ongoing work presenting the fruit of his sacrifice before the Father and interceding for his people on earth.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vi. Entering God's Rest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:1-13

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The writer of Hebrews often uses the word ‘better’ to describe Jesus.  In one sense Jesus is incomparable.  He is unique: the majestic Christ supreme over everyone and everything.  However, in terms of salvation history Jesus is indeed ‘better’: better than angels, Moses, Joshua, a better high priest sacrifice, and rest to name but a few.

 And now the writer invites us to reflect on our relationship with Jesus in what has been described as ‘one of the most fascinating, enigmatic and tightly argued sections of Hebrews’.  The Israelites of old failed to enter God’s rest through unbelief and disobedience.  However, rest is more than a metaphor for the Promised Land.  The inclination to enter God’s rest still stands millennia after that event.