First things first

Order of Service

CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verse 1)

Call to worship

Prayer

Hymn CH4 334 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry (verses 1&5)

Scripture readings:

Exodus 12: 5-13

John 1: 19-34

Hymn CH466 Before the throne of God above (verses 1&3)

Sermon First things first (scroll down for sermon text)

Hymn I watch the sunrise (2 verses)

Prayer

Music

Benediction

CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verses 2&3)

Last week we heard the passage that tells about the twelve year old boy Jesus. He is in dialogue with His teachers, in the temple. And then, Jesus’s parents appear, distressed and also relieved, as they had been looking for Jesus for three days. And this is what happens,

And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

(Luke 2:49-51)

As parents, Mary and Joseph are naturally concerned about Jesus’s wellbeing. But  Jesus Himself points to a different kind of wellbeing, that comes from a different kind of relationship: the relationship between Him and His Heavenly Father.

Jesus is learning and discovering who He is and that is a process that doesn’t happen without tension. The fact that He went with Mary and Joseph back home, to Nazareth, obediently, while being aware who His true Father was, gives that sense of tension that Jesus must have felt.

It is not so much that Jesus’s first priority is to be in His Father’s house as the building. What He means is that He first and above all stands in relationship with His heavenly Father. That relationship, that is what is given first priority by Jesus.

John the Baptist and Jesus.

Their mothers are cousins. The two boys come from very different backgrounds. Joseph is a carpenter and Jesus would, as eldest son, have had to play His part and would have been given responsibilities.

John’s father is a priest. His name is Zechariah and therefore John should actually be called Zechariah too. But the old Zechariah, whose wife had passed the time that she could have children, had been visited by a messenger from God. And this messenger gave him this message: ‘Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’

Zechariah was given both a promise and an instruction, from above: the promise that to him and Elizabeth, his wife, a son would be born. And with this promise, the instruction came, to call him John. And to this promise and instruction these words were added,

And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:14-17)

 In our New Testament passage, we find the grown up John, in dialogue with the authorities of Jerusalem.

The official representative in the world, appointed by God, versus the official representatives of the Jewish religious authorities.

What this tells us is that John is known for what he says and does in the spirit of Elijah and, that he’s being watched by the officials in Jerusalem.

And now John is asked by this delegation from Jerusalem: ‘Who are you?’

He could of course say, I am John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, given his birth story, that answer would not say who he really is. It wouldn’t clarify what he says and does. It had been foretold to Zechariah that John would be great before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Yet, it is emphasized that he’s neither Elijah nor the Prophet, nor Christ. ‘So, who are you? We need you to legitimize yourself, for Jerusalem wants an answer to that question’.

Well, there are questions in life that don’t have a straightforward answer. What John the Baptist says and does as a grown man, is shaped by his call from God; by the purpose God had for him even before he was born. And that purpose cannot be grasped by human intelligence; by human logic. It can only be grasped in the light of John’s birth story, as it was created from above.

The prophecy by the angel Gabriel, to his father Zechariah was proof that a completely new beginning; a new page in Israel’s history; in its salvation story with God, had begun, in Jesus.

John the Baptist is like a converging fire glass. He says in his way what the prophets had said before him. Like them, he doesn’t yet name Jesus Christ. The prophet Malachi says:

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” (Malachi 3:1)

John points to the same Lord, when he says,

“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:26)

All this happens in Bethany, across the Jordan. The same place where under leadership of Joshua, Israel crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land. The same place where later Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. At that place Jesus appears the next day. Seeing Him, John says:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

The lamb.

That takes us to the offerings that the Old Testament tells us about.

When we talk about offerings it’s usually the offering during our church service that we have in mind. The word offering isn’t associated with the slaughtering of an animal for offering. Not in Western thinking.

John, however, being a descendant from the tribe of Levi, John’s mind is so familiar with the lamb that is slaughtered. He’s grown up with what it says in Leviticus,

“If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish and lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on top of the Lord’s food offerings. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.” (Leviticus 4:32-35)

And there is the Passover lamb as we find it in our Old Testament reading of today.

While they came from different family backgrounds, John and Jesus shared their deep knowledge of these passages.

And it would have become clearer and clearer to Jesus, that He was the lamb to be offered for the sins of the world.

A child asks her mother: ‘Why do we close our eyes and fold our hands when we pray?’ The mother’s answer is: ‘then you can think of Jesus on the cross and not be distracted.’

There is so much to see, so much to know. And so much can be seen and known so quickly. Social media has made possible what once was impossible. And it’s good that through technology we can see each other, now we cannot meet physically; that education can to a certain extent be continued, under these circumstances.

Yet, the same time, what we can see and are able to do through that same social media…can drown out what we need to hear first.

Did you not know that I have to be in my Father’s House?

The first words that the child Jesus spoke in the temple, with which He puzzled His parents Mary and Joseph, the words that He spoke and meant,

Do you not know that He comes first?

Do we let Him come first? Do we know that hearing His word brings about a different kind of wellbeing, in the midst of the storms in our lives?

A wellbeing that is called peace?

Paul points to the prophet Isaiah when he says,

Isaiah says: ‘Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing though the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

First things first.

Amen

 

Is the Lord Among us or Not?

Our Old Testament reading draws us into a terrible tense situation. Moses and the people of Israel are in the desert, without water. While the story may not seem very relevant to us, at first sight, the question that is asked, ‘Is the Lord among us or not’, is very relevant. It is a question that has been and continues to be asked over and over again. Is God here with us, during the crisis we find ourselves in or not? Where is He in all this?

During this time of tensions; distress; lack of prospects, just as it was felt in the story of Moses, we may all ask that question at times silently or not so silently, when doubts are kicking in, or anger, when again, restrictions are tightened…and we are thrown into isolation, once more

Yet, we are urged to stand firm in our belief that God is with us, that God is love.

How that faith can shape our lives now?

This is how Paul, in all its detail, describes love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Here we have it… Love spelled out, love as God shows it in His Son Jesus Christ.

It is because God loved us first, with His perfect love, that we can love. He is the source, and therefore it is of crucial importance to stay close to Him. One way of putting it at this time is, when everything happens online, is that we need to stay online with Him; be insistent that the connection doesn’t get lost. Awareness of His presence, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

That is what He longs for, and that is why He gave us the greatest commandment, as an anchor in the storms of life:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22: 37-40)

Is it easy to love…? Is it easy to be what is described by Paul, to be patient, kind, not insisting on our own way…?

Years ago, I had a friend who said to me she needed lessons in love. She recognised, felt, her inadequacy particularly when it came to love someone.

To love someone can be hard. When it is always assumed, not valued, taken for granted, not appreciated, or even scoffed at, rejected. All these different possibilities are realities in life. You may have your own experiences.

Yet, it is the ultimate purpose of our lives, given by God. You could say that it is everyone’s mission to love and with God’s help it is not a mission impossible.

Hearing the story of Moses, you may feel for him as his mission seems pretty much a mission impossible. But he learned a lot, from and with God while He found himself thrown into the most impossible situations. And that is why the story can be encouraging to us, for when we find ourselves in impossible situations.

The story also reminds me of the time, long ago, when I was the lucky one who got the job as team leader when working with young people. Having been singled out from my colleagues, I found myself between them and a management committee to which I was accountable. But the management committee was divided, fragmented. A difficult time, yet never without God’s help.

We find ourselves in difficult situations. We find ourselves in a fragmented world. And this where God offers His oneness. We can count on Him, just as Moses could in the desert, when He asked for His help. We can count on Him, when we ask Him for help. It says specifically in the book of Deuteronomy,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

What that means is that in Him we see perfect wholeness, loyalty, faithfulness to us. Being Love, God does what He does, out of love and with love comes solidarity. God’s solidarity is what He offers to us in times that we struggle; when life gets though.

In our story we see that God helps Moses and the people of Israel, when they are stuck. God’s help comes, but in a very strange way.

Moses is told to take his staff and strike the rock on which God was going to stand. How much sense does this instruction make in the middle of the desert?

Still, Moses did as he was told; even though it did make no sense at all. And so God received from Moses trust and obedience, even though Moses did not understand God’s way.

We see the ultimate obedience to God in Jesus in our New Testament reading. An obedience that comes from humility, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Humility. How does that fit in this world where the emphasis lies on confidence, achievement, control? How can humility have a place in all that…?

In the book of Proverbs, there is this beautiful saying:

Before destruction, a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour. (Proverbs 18:12)

That honour will be given by God Himself alone, after humility. Jesus says:

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29)

Christ humbled Himself like no one else. In Him God came from His high throne in heaven into the world and so He let go His Glory; in order to be a servant; prepared to serve; completely available to God and people. And He did not change His mind when the suffering and death on the cross came nearer and nearer.

Even that night of His arrest, when He knew He was about to suffer and die, He celebrated the last Passover with His disciples, the Passover that celebrates and honours the God who set Israel from slavery in Egypt.

Set free through the blood of His Son. That is what we are.

Jesus remained faithful, loyal to the One who sent Him into the world and so God was able to achieve His purpose through His Son.

That loyalty, that is what God desires from us, His children. Loyalty to Himself and to each other, in response to His loyalty and faithfulness to us.

Is the Lord among us or not?

That is to be discovered by ourselves, not once or twice, but over and over again, when we are open to Him, when we face our own vulnerability and lift our eyes to Him. Just as it has been done by those who went before us, in faith: our parents, grandparents, their parents, and before them Moses, the other prophets, the Psalmist, the disciples when they looked at Jesus, and all those after them throughout the ages. It is to be discovered by ourselves so that, what once has been said by Job in his suffering, can be said again and again, in humility from within the heart:

I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.(Job 42:5)

Amen