Having a Wise Heart

Sunday the 30th of July 2017

1 Kings 3: 5-12

This morning I am going to preach on the Old Testament reading from 1 Kings Chapter 3 which is about King Solomon asking the Lord for wisdom. As I was thinking about this reading it occurred to me that when it comes to having wisdom, to us acting wisely, we need all the help that we can get. After all, there’s more than enough evil to discern in the world. We are faced with that many decisions that we have to make that sometimes it is very difficult to know how to be wise in our choices. And if we are to be honest there are many choices that we make in life that are not as black and white as we would like them to be; sometimes being wise is less about ‘good and evil’ and more about choosing between two things that are equally as good or choosing between the lesser of two evils, which is very difficult.

When it comes to having wisdom, you and I need the wisdom that God gives us. We need his help. And this is the point in today’s reading that King Solomon recognizes.

King Solomon was on the brink of being the King of Israel at the height of its power. And before he starts the Lord comes to him in a dream and says: “Ok, Solomon. You have my ear. Ask what I should give you.”

If you were in Solomon’s position and the Lord said this to you, what would you ask for? Of course the answer would depend on where you were at and where your priorities were. Maybe we would ask for the protection of our land; maybe the protection of culture; or maybe if we were bold we might ask for the possession of other lands and other cultures.  We might even ask to be in a place where we could accumulate riches and status. These are the things that the world around us would answer to such a question, as they are fear and greed driven responses. But Solomon, at this point when the Lord asks him the question, is not driven by these things.

What Solomon does in today’s reading can teach us much about wisdom, particularly the wisdom that comes to us through the Lord; wisdom as seen through God’s eyes. In the verses prior, before the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, Solomon went to Gibeon to make sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4). In doing this, Solomon, even if he did not understand everything properly, was showing a heart of contrition and prayer. Wisdom begins with repentance. Through the eyes of faith, unrepentant wisdom is not wisdom at all. As Proverbs 9: 10 tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Solomon begins by sacrificing to the Lord, which is an act of repentance.

When the Lord speaks to him, Solomon says: “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David…” (v. 6). Solomon has just been given a blank cheque, so to speak. He can ask for anything he wants. So how does he respond? Unlike what I would be tempted to do, Solomon does not go straight into his wish list. He does not ask God for all the things he wants; rather, he first acknowledges God for his loving kindness to his father and to himself. Wisdom begins with a prayer of acknowledgement and thanksgiving.

Solomon goes on to say to the Lord: “…And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child…” (v. 7). Solomon is about to make his request for wisdom, but before he does he acknowledges his child-like dependence upon God. In this way there is a lesson for us all in that it is when we are humble (or in some cases humbled!), that we understand our need for wisdom that only God can give. Wisdom begins with humility.

When Solomon asks the Lord to give him wisdom, he says to the Lord: “So give your servant a discerning mind to govern your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” King Solomon wanted an understanding mind to judge between good and evil (right and wrong). But when God who was pleased with Solomon’s response answered him, he answered with a significant difference. “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.” (v12). Notice that Solomon asks for a wise mind. But God gives him a wise heart.

In order for Solomon to lead God’s people, he had to know God’s heart. Sometimes I wonder whether in our prayers when we seek God to guide us, where we ask him to show us the way, whether we are wanting God to give us a wise mind. Maybe we want him to help us understand; to be able to work things out; to be able to put things into boxes so that things make sense to us. But are we prepared for him to give us not a wise mind, but a wise heart? Are we prepared to see things through his eyes? To see behind the outer layer of what we see? To see the real issues we face?

Are we prepared for our hearts to be changed? And when they are, are we then prepared to follow the Lord where he leads us? You see a wise heart is a heart that listens to the Lord and then acts on what he tells us. Listening and obedience are one and the same in the Bible. If we think we are listening to God, but are not obeying, we are just hearing things—in one ear and out the other—and this is not wise. True wisdom means having open hearts and minds to be able to be led in ways in which we see God’s heart in the issues that are before us.

The Lord gifted Solomon with great wisdom, and through this Solomon was able to do great things; significantly, he was the king who built the temple of the Lord. But even Solomon in all his giftedness from the Lord gave in to the temptation to let the power lead him astray. Solomon in all his wisdom was led astray to worship false idols. As a result the power and the authority that the king of Israel had began to crumble. In this there is also a lesson for you and me; we need to continually rely on God and ask him to give us wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from God and we need to be aware that we too are just as susceptible to falling away. No amount of human wisdom will save us from our sinful nature, no matter how wise we may think we are at times. As scripture tells us: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27). Our salvation is not based on how wise we are, but on God’s wisdom, and in his wisdom he gave the world his only son Jesus to die for our sins and rise again to give us new life. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” and we can only do this because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We trust his mercy and his grace to us through him.

I encourage you all in your walk with our Lord to learn from Solomon, to walk with the Lord in repentance, thanksgiving and humility; knowing that whatever wisdom we have needs to come from him. I encourage you all to have an open heart to hear and receive so that you can know God’s heart for the situations you face in your life. But most of all I pray that you will keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and boast only in what he has done for you, so you are not tempted to boast in your own selves. In walking with our Lord in these ways, your life will be full of Godly wisdom and you will be able to see him at work in your daily life.

 

Being Led by the Holy Spirit

Sunday 23rd of July 2017

Romans 8:12-17

This morning I am going to preach on the epistle reading from Romans chapter 8. But before I get to this reading I want to start by looking at a passage from Deuteronomy 30: 15ff which says, “16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”

The Israelites were about to enter into the promised land that God had given them, they were about to walk into their inheritance, the gift of God which he was going to pass on to his people. Before they walk into this land God gives them this warning: “15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” In other words, these people were going to be faced with a choice. History tells us that his people made the wrong choice and instead of choosing life they chose the way of sin, and they paid the penalty for this continually as they kept sinning against God.

When God sent his only son Jesus into this world he did so, so that whoever believes in him may be saved from death. Jesus came and took the sin and its punishment upon himself, and by rising again destroyed the power of death for our sake; so that we who are baptized into the name of our God are his now, his children, a part of his family, a people with an inheritance that awaits us when Jesus returns. It is because of Jesus and what he has done that we have this sure hope.

We now stand at peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us; we have died to sin and risen to new life because of our baptism. And as verse one of this chapter says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

All of this is the heart of the Christian faith and is true. However, there is a major problem that we all face; that is our sinful natures still confront us. We struggle against our natures, in which we often give in and live in sin. In this age in which we still live before Jesus’ second coming there is still death; we still have to put to death the practices of our sinful natures. There is still a very real struggle between our sinful natures and the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

In the midst of these everyday battles we have a choice to make. We are told in verse 14: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” We have a choice to make: are we going to let our sinful nature dictate what we do, or are we going to be led by the Holy Spirit? Notice what it does not say here. It does not say that God’s children follow the Holy Spirit; rather it says they are led by him. If I choose to follow, then I am still the one in charge; I still have control. But if I am led by the Holy Spirit, He is the one in charge; He is the one who decides. Where it says that we are led by the Spirit it is very similar to Jesus in his temptation in the wilderness where Luke tells us: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” (4:1) Jesus was led into the desert; he gave himself over to the control of the Holy Spirit. We can’t make the choice to stop sinning, it is in our very natures, but we can make the choice to let the Holy Spirit lead us. This is a very hard thing to do because at its very heart we are faced with the question of do we trust God, or are we going to go our own way? But this is the choice that we are all faced with.

Unlike the Israelites before they entered the promised land, we as Christians do not make this choice alone. The Israelites lived a lot of their lives in slavery to different nations who ruled them, because of their own rebellion against God. But as Christians we can make different choices because we already belong to God’s family through Jesus, because we are already included through him. “15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

Because of what Jesus has done for you and me, it means that we have new identities. As Christians we belong to our God; he has adopted us as his children through the work of Jesus. Because of this we know that when Jesus comes back he will take us to be with him. The question that needs to be asked is: what does it mean to live the Christian life, while we are waiting for his return?

Our sinful natures, along with the culture that we live in, can so easily drag us down to its sinful level. Being a Christian living in this world means being prepared to go with where the Spirit leads. Now this may sound simple, but it is a lot tougher than it seems. Take a look around us in our society and see just how much our society and our culture are shaping those within churches. Many people are claiming to be Christians, and yet the very way they live their lives are in line with the world around them. Being led by the Spirit often means letting Him lead you on a path that is directly opposed to our society’s standards in many cases. It often means being prepared to walk against the flow, to stand on our convictions that we receive from God’s word to us.

The temptation is to take our eyes off Jesus and what he has done for us and put them on the troubles that we see. When we do this is when we begin to become discouraged and maybe even at times tempted to do things our own way rather than letting the Holy Spirit lead us. But the thing is that because we have these promises of God, because we are included in him and we have the hope of eternal life with him, we do not need to be afraid. As it says: “15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;…” No, it is precisely because God has us and because we belong to him that we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us. It is because of this that we can prepare our hearts to hear his leading in our lives. And it is because of what our God has already done that we can make the choice in our daily living to be led by Him.

Understanding why we are Christians who belong to God and are forgiven and redeemed, and yet who still struggle with our sinful natures is quite a complex thing to understand. But my encouragement to you all is to open your eyes and your hearts so that you can hear the Holy Spirit and make the choice to let him lead you through his Word, but also through other Christians that he has placed around you. I encourage you all with the fact that you are in God’s family and that he has you in his care and is helping you to overcome the obstacles in your life. Keep persisting in your walk with him, and have an open heart to be led by Him, and God will do the rest.

Hearts Ready Receive the Word

Sunday the 16th of July 2017

Matthew 13: 1-23

The church in New Zealand that I grew up in was started as a mission church. A number of people who were involved in larger congregations from the surrounding area met together and decided to plant a church in the town of Feilding. This church started in the 1970s and it had a small group of people who had a passion for mission. When I was in my teenage years in the 1990s this congregation was still small. I remember quite distinctly that some of the people were despairing, because they had been witnessing to their neighbours and others, yet our church was still small. We had people come for awhile who were enthusiastic, then they fell away and stopped coming. In my early teenage years there was one other person in my age group. The two of us started inviting our friends to a youth group. Within three years it had gone from a group of three or four to a group of one hundred and fifty; we even had to have a waiting list! There was real hope. This church is still going today, but it is very small now and at times has been on the brink of closing. None of the hundred and fifty from that youth group attends the church anymore. Yet there are still those faithful people worshipping and the church continues.

In the Isaiah reading for today the Lord says these words (chapter 55:10,11): “10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” In these words spoken to a people who were small in number, who were in a foreign land, in exile, the Lord spoke a word of promise. God speaks his Word and it does bring about fruit.

It is not easy to trust this promise at times, is it? As we look around us do we see God’s Word at work? It seems to me that it is getting increasingly difficult to see Him at work around us.  But this is His promise to Israelites and to us that the Word of God has come down from heaven; already it is working steadily, accomplishing what it was sent to do. This is the promise that we as Christians need to hold on to.  And as we hold on to this promise we continue to bear witness to this. And as we bear witness to this we start to see God working. However, how people respond to Jesus and His Word is a challenge and it is a challenge that Jesus was addressing in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 13. Today’s reading is the famous parable of the sower. At its very heart, this parable is about the working of God’s Word in the lives of people and how they respond.

Jesus’ ministry began to take a turn for the worse in chapter 11; people who were hearing him did not like what he was saying and were starting to become offended and angry with him. And it is in this context that Jesus tells this parable. In this parable he is again teaching the crowd and his disciples about the reality of how people respond to him and to his Word.

I think that we all would like to be the people whose hearts are the good soil ready to receive his Word and produce his fruit in our lives. And I think many of us have a deep desire that others whom we know and love have a heart that is ready for God’s Word to work in their lives. But the reality is it is not like this. People respond to Jesus and his Word in many different ways and these ways are not within our control. We cannot make people respond to God’s Word no matter how much we may try.

This is where so much discouragement comes. We as a church proclaim God’s Word of forgiveness of Jesus, we meet to worship him, we desire to have him work in the lives of those around us, but our hearts become burdened because there are so many times when we do not see his Word falling on the good soil, but rather we see people falling away. The results of the Gospel which we know and hold to are rarely received immediately, and more often than not, we cannot see God’s Word working.

One of the most important teachings from God’s Word that Lutherans and all other Protestants hold is that we cannot earn our way into heaven. We are not saved by works. So when it comes a parable like this the temptation is to think that God’s Word and promise is that he will work according to his purpose, so this means that we just need to get out of the way and let him work, because there is nothing that we can do—it’s all up to God. However, after telling the parable Jesus says to the crowd: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

When Jesus says this he is making a point that is all too often overlooked. It is not only important that we hear the Word of God—after all, the crowds were hearing God’s Word to them through Jesus—but it is equally important how we hear the Word of God. And whether we like it or not, we do have a part to play in how God’s Word is received by us.

It is true that we can do nothing to add to the power of God’s Word, but we can do things to impede its power. Our reading makes this clear; if we’re choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, we bring no fruit to bear. When there are too many thorns in our lives, things like carelessness, indifference, worry, grudges, materialism, etc., these can choke the Word of God and get in the way of its working in us.

It is true that if we have too many thorns in our lives, God struggles to get a word in edgewise. If our house is filled with too many things, the Holy Spirit can’t crowd in; there’s simply no room for him.

We do need at times to think about the condition of our hearts and ask if we are receptive to His Word. But as we do this, we need to remember that although the emphasis of Jesus’ parable is on the power of the soil to impact the seed, the Gospel of our parable is that the seed alone (the Gospel of Christ crucified and risen on our behalf) can make the soil grow things—such as faith and good works. For this you and I need to be thankful, that God is at work in our lives through Jesus, that we are where we are with him. There is a temptation to see ourselves as the ones with the good soil and those who are not like us as the ones with the shallow soil or the soil filled with weeds. However, we are not to judge, but rather focus on our own hearts, making sure we receive the Word of the Lord to us, making sure we listen with ears that are hearing.

The farmer in this parable was scattering the seed, and it was falling on many different places. God scatters his Word, and it lands in many different places. Often it is in the unsuspected ways and in unexpected people that the Word finds good soil. It is not always predictable who has the right hearts to hear and receive. But this is how the Gospel in God’s kingdom works—he reaches out to all.

During my time in Australia over the last twenty years, God has given me the opportunity to see his Word taking root in many people, which has always been a great encouragement to me. But at the same time I am aware of those who are faithful and yet don’t get to see the results of their witness, as in when I was a child. I have had the opportunity to be involved in large congregations where there are many things happening, where God is very visibly working in churches and in communities. But being in a small Christian community like ours I can see that many are struggling to see God at work.

My encouragement to you all is that God’s promise is that his Word will bring about its purpose. And his Word is at work here today within our parish. We at times may struggle to see him working, but he is working in people’s hearts. We cannot control how people respond to Him, even though at times we would like to. But we can trust Him. As your pastor I can assure you that as I visit I see his Word at work in the lives of many. He is working in many ways that many of you are not aware of. But he is at work scattering the seed of his Word in the hearts of people. I encourage you to open your eyes and your ears to see how his Word is working in our parish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rest For Your Soul

Sunday the 9th of July 2017

Romans 7: 7- 25

At the end of today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus says these words: 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Sounds good doesn’t it? We live in a world where rest is often elusive for many. The temptation to be anxious and stressed about all that is happening around us is always with us. We live in such a fast paced world. How many times do we ask someone how they are going and they say: “busy”? Life can be very hectic for many of us with so little time to ponder about life, to think about things that are important.

But there is another type of rest that Jesus touches on here in this reading, the rest that we will find for our souls. This is the true rest that we need in this life, so the question is what type of rest is this?

Today’s Epistle reading from Romans chapter seven is all about sin. It is about how sin works in our lives, how sin seeks to disrupt our walk with our Lord. The Apostle Paul lays out for us to see that sin in this life is a real battle. In fact he speaks in a very direct and honest way describing just how sin works in our lives. He says: 14 “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” As Christians who have the Holy Spirit within us, we know when we are not doing what God asks us to do. When the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Word and points out to us what God says in his law to us, we are well aware of when we fail. And the evil one has no hesitation in reminding us when we do not obey what God says. When this happens our consciences can so easily become burdened. When we know full well what God is asking of us and we are doing the exact opposite, life can become very difficult.

Often I have heard, from those who do not believe, criticism of Christians. Why? Because according to them Christians talk about living perfect lives and loving others, yet don’t practice what they preach. In this, their criticism is accurate; we don’t live good Christian lives at times, we do struggle with sins in our lives and to deny this would be foolish and dishonest. But is this what our Christian faith is about: living the good Christian life? Yes we are to live according to what God tells us through his Word. Yes we are to obediently follow him. God shows us very clearly in his Word what he expects of us; just take a look at the Ten Commandments. It is clear what is expected from us by him, but the fact is that we do not do what he asks. Now if you and I did not know any better, if we had not heard God’s Word to us and not heard what he expects of us then we would have an excuse. But the fact that we do know and have heard condemns us even more. This is the point that the Apostle is getting at here in this reading.

Our tendency in situations like this is to think that we have to strive harder, that we have to work harder to overcome the things in our lives that are getting in the way of our relationship with God. The problem is the more we work harder the more obvious it is that we cannot overcome the sin in our lives. This attitude works in most areas of life. If something is not going well, then work harder and it will improve. If you want to meet the goals you have, you have to work hard and eventually they will come about. If we want to overcome difficulties in our lives then we are encouraged to work hard, because hard work pays off. And it does, but it does not when it comes to our sin before God. It is not that we don’t have the desire to follow God and do what he asks; it is just that we are in a battle between where the Holy Spirit is leading us and where our sinful natures want us to go. The Apostle says: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

When I was studying at ALC there was a retired pastor, Rolph Mayer, who lived close by and would come into the refectory and talk with us over coffee. One morning tea time he was talking to a group of us of how in his pastoral experience, he had come to the conclusion that the majority of people whom he had served knew the law because they were aware of their sins before God, but he said: “It is a lot harder for many people to hear the Gospel in our day and age, so make sure when you preach that you speak the Gospel loud and clear because we all need to hear it”. There is some very good wisdom in his advice. In our culture it seems to me that we can so easily focus on the negatives in life. We can’t seem to find joy in the good things, because we are always critical of everything we see that is wrong. The same is often true of how we see ourselves. It is easier to see the sin in our lives, that to see the way that God is working in us. It is easier to see when we fail, than it is to see God’s grace at work in us, which leads many to be discouraged and disheartened. It is easy to become burdened to the point of giving up and walking away from the faith for some. This led Paul to ask the question: “…Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” and the answer is: “25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

As those who are called to be God’s children in this life, despite the fact that we all still sin and struggle, because of what Jesus has done for us we no longer have to live life burdened by the guilt of our sins before him, because Jesus has dealt with them. This is the good news that you and I have. This is the joy of the Gospel that we live in. Because we are his children through baptism, we no longer stand condemned, but have the gift of receiving forgiveness and peace from God to us because of Jesus. Jesus said in today’s Gospel reading: “29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus says to us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We can never deny that we sin, or pretend that sin doesn’t have consequences in this life. We have to be honest and admit that to live the Christian life is a real battle to fight against giving in to the sinful temptations that hound us, but we don’t have to fight this battle on our own, in fact we cannot do it in our strength. We are to take a hold of Jesus’ yoke, we are to cling to him, to let him take the burdens of our sins and guilty consciences from us and let him gently direct us in this life in the way that he wants us to go. Notice how the apostle is giving thanks to God because he had been rescued. We too can give thanks to God for rescuing us. We can rest in the joy that we have in Jesus because we know that no matter what happens in this life we are in his hands. We have the Holy Spirit in us guiding us, even when we sin he brings us back to him in repentance. No one is beyond his reach and no sin is too powerful, for those who believe, that he does not forgive.

I encourage each of you to confess your sins to God, but also to actively receive his grace, mercy and forgiveness that he offers to you. And in doing this I encourage you to look for all the positive ways that God is working in your life, all of the ways in which he is at work in you, so that you may be full of joy and giving thanks to him for what he has done, and what he is doing for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming And Being Welcomed

Sunday 2nd July 2017

Matthew 10:40-42

Over the last three weeks I have been preaching from Matthew chapter 10, where the focus has been on what Jesus was teaching his disciples about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. What it means to follow him? Also we have looked at what Jesus tells us about how others may respond to us as we follow him. Today we come to the last part of Jesus’ teaching of his disciples in chapter 10. And it ends in a rather unusual way. It ends in today’s reading where Jesus is talking to his disciples about the role of hospitality in the work of his people.

Jesus says: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. Notice who is doing the welcoming here. It is not the disciples who are doing the welcoming, but they are the ones being welcomed.

One of the most well known missionaries of the 20th Century and someone who has greatly inspired me is a woman named Jackie Pullinger. Jackie became a Christian in her early twenties and very early in her walk with the Lord had a great passion for spreading the Gospel. She applied to a well known missionary organisation in the UK to be missionary in Hong Kong, but they refused to support her.  So believing that she was called she decided to go anyway. She paid for a boat ticket and arrived in Hong Kong with no money and no place to stay. Once she arrived she went straight to the slums area of Hong Kong, where she thought the Lord was leading her, and a stranger, upon hearing her situation, invited her into their home. Jackie went on to spread the Gospel to children in poverty and to those involved in a life of crime in Hong Kong, for the majority of her life. And became one of the most well known and well respected Christian missionaries in that area. Her books about her experiences are well worth reading if you get the chance. Jackie Pullinger is well known, but I doubt that anyone can tell the name of the person who took her into their home.

We can easily look back at the past and know about famous missionaries, but I wonder whether at times we miss the importance of those who supported them and welcomed them in to their homes. Maybe the well known missionaries can be overrated, and their support teams who make the mission possible through prayer, planning, and financial support are so often unknown and perhaps undervalued.  Yet these unnamed people have a significant role to play in God’s kingdom and his mission for the world.

God brings others to faith in him often by using unnamed people who provide a thirsty servant a cold drink of water and who we don’t find named in the pages of Church History.

When we read the book of Acts and hear about the beginnings of the Church, I wonder whether we tend to focus on the apostles and what God did through them in growing the church, but if we take a closer look the Gospel spreads through people who seem to have such minor roles and are not really mentioned much. There are people like Ananias, Simon the Tanner, Cornelius, Lydia, Priscilla & Aquila, Sergius Paulus and many more. The key thing about all of these characters is that they played a part in the spread of the Gospel, by their simple acts of receiving others. Their hospitality played a significant role in the spread of the early Church. In understanding how God’s mission to this world works, and how our role as a church reflects his mission, maybe we need to start by celebrating those offering the cup of cold water. Those who hospitably receive the Lord’s people are just as influential, if not more so in the spreading of the Christian faith. “None of these,” Jesus tells us, “will lose their reward.” (10:42) Hospitality plays such a significant role in our lives as disciples of Jesus.

As I thought more about what Jesus said about welcoming, it occurred to me that he was speaking to his disciples about them being welcomed. In other words he was sending his disciples out to spread that Good news, but in order to do this they had to be prepared to be welcomed. It is one thing to be in the position of welcoming others, whether it is into your church, into your home, into your life. When we are welcoming we have the power. We get to make the decisions as to whom we will invite and when we will invite them. We can control the circumstances, the setting, and the surroundings. And we are able to determine when the welcoming will come to an end.

But it would be a different story wouldn’t it if we were to find ourselves on the other side; where we are the ones being welcomed; where we are the ones at the mercy of others; where we are the ones wondering if we will be welcomed or not.

To be on the receiving end of someone else’s hospitality means being open to being vulnerable. To take up someone else’s invitation means to trust, to be willing to accept what they have to offer. Jesus refers to his disciples as “little ones”, the reason being his disciples are vulnerable because they are open to attack, and in the eyes of the world, they can be of little significance. This is as true today as it was for those first disciples. These words from Jesus are a challenge to all his disciples, because nobody likes being vulnerable, but as his followers he calls us to be just that.

In his teaching on what it means to be a disciple of His, Jesus has told things like they are; he has pointed out that the way of the Christian life with him will have joys, but it will be difficult as well. To follow Jesus does mean being vulnerable at times. We are called to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations for His sake.

But as we do this, we do it with the encouragement that he gives us. In today’s reading he gives his disciples great encouragement. He says: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” His disciples are not alone. Jesus is with them to the point that when the disciples are received by others, the ones receiving are receiving Jesus himself. Wherever His disciples go Jesus is with them. As Jesus says in Matthew 28: 20 … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So he is saying here. Jesus tells us that he and his Father will accompany us in the difficult times as we walk with him.

It is this that we need to remember. It is very easy in our lives to get bogged down by what is going on around us; to see all the negative things that are happening in our lives, but also in the world at the moment. It is easy to see the challenges that are in front of us. Sometimes in the midst of all of this we might wonder whether we can survive. Jesus never promises his followers an easy life; in fact there are times when he is very honest about this in his Word. But he does promise us that He along with his Father and the Holy Spirit are with us, that as we walk with him he goes with us. And because of this others will respond to him. This is what we need to trust: his promise that He is with us. As we do we will be able to step out in faith, to take the risks in life that he asks us to make in following him, which includes welcoming others, but also being vulnerable enough to be welcomed by others.

I encourage each of you in your walk with our Lord to take comfort in his promise to you; to take heart in knowing that our Lord is present in your life. I also encourage you to look at the opportunities that he places before you to reach out to others and to take a step of faith trusting that he is with you and bringing the Gospel to those around you as you walk with him.

Matthew 10:40-42

Over the last three weeks I have been preaching from Matthew chapter 10, where the focus has been on what Jesus was teaching his disciples about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. What it means to follow him? Also we have looked at what Jesus tells us about how others may respond to us as we follow him. Today we come to the last part of Jesus’ teaching of his disciples in chapter 10. And it ends in a rather unusual way. It ends in today’s reading where Jesus is talking to his disciples about the role of hospitality in the work of his people.

Jesus says: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. Notice who is doing the welcoming here. It is not the disciples who are doing the welcoming, but they are the ones being welcomed.

One of the most well known missionaries of the 20th Century and someone who has greatly inspired me is a woman named Jackie Pullinger. Jackie became a Christian in her early twenties and very early in her walk with the Lord had a great passion for spreading the Gospel. She applied to a well known missionary organisation in the UK to be missionary in Hong Kong, but they refused to support her.  So believing that she was called she decided to go anyway. She paid for a boat ticket and arrived in Hong Kong with no money and no place to stay. Once she arrived she went straight to the slums area of Hong Kong, where she thought the Lord was leading her, and a stranger, upon hearing her situation, invited her into their home. Jackie went on to spread the Gospel to children in poverty and to those involved in a life of crime in Hong Kong, for the majority of her life. And became one of the most well known and well respected Christian missionaries in that area. Her books about her experiences are well worth reading if you get the chance. Jackie Pullinger is well known, but I doubt that anyone can tell the name of the person who took her into their home.

We can easily look back at the past and know about famous missionaries, but I wonder whether at times we miss the importance of those who supported them and welcomed them in to their homes. Maybe the well known missionaries can be overrated, and their support teams who make the mission possible through prayer, planning, and financial support are so often unknown and perhaps undervalued.  Yet these unnamed people have a significant role to play in God’s kingdom and his mission for the world.

God brings others to faith in him often by using unnamed people who provide a thirsty servant a cold drink of water and who we don’t find named in the pages of Church History.

When we read the book of Acts and hear about the beginnings of the Church, I wonder whether we tend to focus on the apostles and what God did through them in growing the church, but if we take a closer look the Gospel spreads through people who seem to have such minor roles and are not really mentioned much. There are people like Ananias, Simon the Tanner, Cornelius, Lydia, Priscilla & Aquila, Sergius Paulus and many more. The key thing about all of these characters is that they played a part in the spread of the Gospel, by their simple acts of receiving others. Their hospitality played a significant role in the spread of the early Church. In understanding how God’s mission to this world works, and how our role as a church reflects his mission, maybe we need to start by celebrating those offering the cup of cold water. Those who hospitably receive the Lord’s people are just as influential, if not more so in the spreading of the Christian faith. “None of these,” Jesus tells us, “will lose their reward.” (10:42) Hospitality plays such a significant role in our lives as disciples of Jesus.

As I thought more about what Jesus said about welcoming, it occurred to me that he was speaking to his disciples about them being welcomed. In other words he was sending his disciples out to spread that Good news, but in order to do this they had to be prepared to be welcomed. It is one thing to be in the position of welcoming others, whether it is into your church, into your home, into your life. When we are welcoming we have the power. We get to make the decisions as to whom we will invite and when we will invite them. We can control the circumstances, the setting, and the surroundings. And we are able to determine when the welcoming will come to an end.

But it would be a different story wouldn’t it if we were to find ourselves on the other side; where we are the ones being welcomed; where we are the ones at the mercy of others; where we are the ones wondering if we will be welcomed or not.

To be on the receiving end of someone else’s hospitality means being open to being vulnerable. To take up someone else’s invitation means to trust, to be willing to accept what they have to offer. Jesus refers to his disciples as “little ones”, the reason being his disciples are vulnerable because they are open to attack, and in the eyes of the world, they can be of little significance. This is as true today as it was for those first disciples. These words from Jesus are a challenge to all his disciples, because nobody likes being vulnerable, but as his followers he calls us to be just that.

In his teaching on what it means to be a disciple of His, Jesus has told things like they are; he has pointed out that the way of the Christian life with him will have joys, but it will be difficult as well. To follow Jesus does mean being vulnerable at times. We are called to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations for His sake.

But as we do this, we do it with the encouragement that he gives us. In today’s reading he gives his disciples great encouragement. He says: 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” His disciples are not alone. Jesus is with them to the point that when the disciples are received by others, the ones receiving are receiving Jesus himself. Wherever His disciples go Jesus is with them. As Jesus says in Matthew 28: 20 … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So he is saying here. Jesus tells us that he and his Father will accompany us in the difficult times as we walk with him.

It is this that we need to remember. It is very easy in our lives to get bogged down by what is going on around us; to see all the negative things that are happening in our lives, but also in the world at the moment. It is easy to see the challenges that are in front of us. Sometimes in the midst of all of this we might wonder whether we can survive. Jesus never promises his followers an easy life; in fact there are times when he is very honest about this in his Word. But he does promise us that He along with his Father and the Holy Spirit are with us, that as we walk with him he goes with us. And because of this others will respond to him. This is what we need to trust: his promise that He is with us. As we do we will be able to step out in faith, to take the risks in life that he asks us to make in following him, which includes welcoming others, but also being vulnerable enough to be welcomed by others.

I encourage each of you in your walk with our Lord to take comfort in his promise to you; to take heart in knowing that our Lord is present in your life. I also encourage you to look at the opportunities that he places before you to reach out to others and to take a step of faith trusting that he is with you and bringing the Gospel to those around you as you walk with him.