Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Luke chapter 3- Luke chapter 6:20 Following His Footsteps: The Ministry Of Jesus In THe Gospel Of Luke... an index to a Sermon Series on the Early Ministry of Jesus

This is simply an Index for a sermon series.  I preached on Luke chapters 3-6:19 "Following his Footsteps: the Ministry of Jesus In Luke's Gospel" is the first series of messages in a wider exploration of Luke's Gospel. It focuses on Jesus ministry from his baptism through to his choosing the twelve and starting his teaching on being a disciple in the sermon on the plain. It is series which I hope will encourage us as a church and those who read or hear them to be followers of Jesus, to know his revolution of grace and be willing to share that with the world around them.

AS always
If there is stuff you find useful and encourageing great... glory to God
Feel free to use anything you find helpful.
If you want to comment or sdisagree I'm always happy to respond and even be proven wrong (after some grumbling and muttering under my breath)

Luke 1:1-4, 3:1-18  Preparing to Follow Jesus an Introduction

Luke 3:21-22, 4:1-14 Baptised and tempted: following Jesus through times of trial and temptation

Luke  4;14-30  Jesus Revolution of Grace... a hostile homecoming

Luke 4:31-44 Jesus Heals and Liberates: THe First Two Miracles of Jesus In Luke's Gsopel

Luke 5:1-11  Out Into The Deep: Getting Caught UP In Jesus< Leaving it all and Gone Fishing

Luke 5:12-16 Jesus Is Willing Are We? A Healing  Restoring Touch From Jesus

Luke 5: 17-26 There Is A Hole In The Roof Jesus Called Faith

 Luke 5:27-31 The Call Of Levi... A Reflection

Luke 5: 31-39  Patching Clothes, Storing the New VIntage and Jesus Revolution of Grace

Luke  6:1-11  Be It Amidst The Rigid Religious Rules or Relentless Recent Rush, The Son Of Man  
                      Is Lord Of The Sabbath

Luke 6: 12-20  Chosen To Be Sent: He Looked to His Disciples and said

The series that Follows on from this looks at Jesus Sermon on the Plain... and is called Plain Talking From Jesus: Showing exceptional Love in Light Of God's Gracious Blessing... and can be acessed through this index post.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Luke 6:20-49... plain talking from Jesus: Showing exceptional love in light of God's gracious offer of blessing... a sermon series index.

As part of a wider exploration of Luke's Gospel I have recently preached a series of messages on Luke's sermon on the plain.. (luke 6:12-49).here is an index of those messages. Hopefully you find them insightful, helpful, encouraging and challanging... And as always if there is anything that you want to use feel free.

Luke 6:20-26   Blessed by Grace:Blessngs and Woes In Luke's gospel

Luke 6:27-36 Exceptional love... no exceptions: Jesus ays Love your enemies 

Luke 6:37-45 Eyes Wide Open: judge not... again exceptional love no exceptions

Luke 6:39-46 Sight Impediment, Horticultural identification and who to follow

Luke 6:46-49 Jesus:The soild foundation for showing exceptional Love .   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mature and Marvellous: Abraham and Sarah examples of faith in their senior years... (Hebrews 11:11-12, 17-19 and 12:1-3)

On Sunday October 4th we had a special service to celebrate seniors in our community... October 1st is the International day of the Older person... and it's strange how it seems to be more significant to me as each year passes... here is the message looking at Sarah and abraham as people who by faith expected new things from God and faced their greatst challanges in their later years.  

I’m only in my early fifties, but there are times when you notice you are slowly transitioning into a new life stage…Beards are back in fashion, you may have noticed it…I’ve had one nearly all my adult life even when they were not fashionable… I only shaved it off twice since leaving school both times to raise money for charity. 

But I had one of those life stage change moments when I saw this wonderful image of a t-shirt which measures the length of your beard and  identifies its length with different looks … sea captain, hillbilly, hippy, Professorial, lumberjack,  , kung fu master, right down to  Godly… But I realised that at a certain age a certain amount of grey and you cross a line and it simply becomes a matter of can you play Santa with some assistance, can play Santa, without any assistance, you probably are Santa and beyond that it just Gandalf or Dumbledore. And while that transmission takes a bit of getting used to the bible as we’ve seen this morning honours and acknowledges the importance of getting older, of becoming mature and marvellous. 

Our Bible reading this morning was from the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The author had given a definition of the word faith and then gives a list of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament, and finishes by exhorting his readers and us to run the race before us, with our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith. If you look through the list they are people from all different life stages. The two that we chose to focus on are Sarah and Abraham, the father and mother of the people of Israel. If you read through their stories in Genesis you see that they had a life time living by faith trusting God to keep his promises to them of relationship, land, offspring, blessing and being a blessing to the nations. But the two instances mentioned in our reading this morning come from the later part of their lives. I think they speak to us today as we celebrate seniors, and acknowledge the mature and marvellous. Because for Sarah and Abraham it was in their later years they expected and received new things from God and also faced their greatest challenges. 

Now I’m not sure if many of you women here today would want to be expecting in the way Sarah was in her later years. She was way past child bearing age but God allowed her to have a son, Isaac. Isaac means laughter and comes from Sarah laughing at God saying she would have children because of her and her husband’s advanced age… Although with modern medical break-throughs we are seeing women have children in their sixties and even seventies. The world oldest women to become a mother is Rabo Devi Lohan at 74… Also because of the pressure on relationships and the need for two incomes for families to make ends meet in our increasingly expensive society, the number of grandparents taking on more if not total responsibility for the care of their grandchildren is on the rise.  But I think the encouragement and inspiration from this passage is being open to new things from God even in our later years.

On the screen behind me is the cover of Talking Heads album ‘little creatures’. It won the 1985 Rolling Stones magazine album cover of the year. It was painted by Howard Finster… who was responsible for introducing millions to outsider or naïve art. Finster was a Baptist minister and didn’t start painting till after he retired. He kept on painting into his nineties. In fact it was in his nineties that he became the most shown living American artist. He saw his painting as an extension of his lifelong passion of sharing the bible with people. He used to say that this album cover got more bible verses into more homes that any of the 4,625 sermons he preached. 

We often forget about the age of some of history’s most famous people… Michelangelo was appointed chief architect of the  St Peter’s in Rome at seventy one and continued till his death at eighty nine. Claude Monet painted the last of his famous water lilly paintings shortly before his death at eighty six… I wonder of that impressionist style wasn’t simply that he forgot his glasses that day? Frank Loyd wright designed his famous waterfall house at sixty nine and the fabulous Guggehiem Art museum at seventy six. He did his most productive work between age eighty and his death at ninety three. Colonel Sanders and Ferdinand Zeppelin didn’t start doing what made them famous until after their late fifties. I once heard a Chinese Christian leader talk about the spread of the gospel in the hard days of communist China and he said one of the reasons that the Christian faith grew in china was because of people like a little old lady in his congregation in Hong King who was was house bound. She lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building and had to rely on others to bring her groceries, but she spent much of her day knelling and praying for home country.

We had a retirement seminar here recently and we had Marianne Hornberg, the chaplain at Selwyn village over in Pt Chev take a session and she talked of one of the big questions for people as they grow older was what kind of legacy were they going to leave. Author Leonard Sweet sums up the three stages of life for him revolving round the questions “where did you go to school?” what do you do for a living?’ and for the third age “what difference are you making for God?” In the Christian faith retirement is going home to glory, but finishing up paid employed is just a chance not to retire but to be retreaded, and allow God to show us new things in and for life. 

 The second thing is that for Abraham and Sarah they faced their biggest challenges in life as well in their older age. There is the perplexing story of Abraham being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, until God steps in and provides a lamb instead: A metaphor that Christians readily see pointing us to Jesus death on the cross. Scholars and people of faith have wrestled with this story for over two millennia. Abraham is seen as a hero of the faith for his willingness to obey what he felt God was saying, that he passed this test of faith where as others wonder if it wasn’t a test of obedience but rather of relationship and Abraham even after following and trusting God all his life failed to know what God was really like. Either way God actually came through in the end.

Our senior years are often when we face the biggest challenges of life. We could mention the obvious, Illness bereavement, coping with losing independence and having to rely on others. In our western society the car is such a symbol of freedom, it’s a right of passage getting your first car… right. Mine was a 1967 Triumph 2000… it was a real lemon but freedom… and I Remember my mum being aware that she was going to have to make some hard life style choices when at eighty four she was going to have to give up driving. These days’ people also struggle with having to work longer because of increased costs.  With longer life spans we have people retiring who are juggling looking after aged parents and the demands of stressed children and the needs of grandchildren. But more than that there are challenges of issues like identity, loneliness,   a rapidly changing world ( my kids laugh when I tell them we did computing at school using punch cards, and had a party line our phone number was Titirangi 5569M and had to go through the exchange to make a call from out west into the city). Significance, grief… I don’t want to bring people down, but it is when we are older that we can face those life challenges.

Abraham’s story both leaves open the fact that we can both succeed and fail in facing those challenges but also that as well as expecting new things from God; we can also seek and trust God in the mist of those challenges. Maybe the biggest ones come as we mature because we will find the wisdom to face them and he wisdom to know we can turn to God in them. 

 Now the world record for the 100 metres by someone over 100 was set by Japan’s Hidekichi Miyazaki when he at 103 does anyone know the time… 34.10 seconds…  he broke his own record for being the oldest competitive 100 meters runner  at the age of 95... Sadly he didn't run a personal best. Miyazaki has challanged Hussain Bolt to a race... I hope Hussain does not leae it too pong to accept the challenge.

The last thing today is an encouragement for running life's race. Abraham and Sarah are held up to us in the scripture as heroes of the faith. They are examples of people who lived their whole lives trusting God, even if they didn’t see in the end the fruition of what they dreamed of. Again at our retirement seminar Marianne Hornburg talked of many people in their senior years having time to think back through life and for many of them it was a time when they re-evaluated where faith stood in their lives. They took the time to seek and find what was important and endured. While Ex YFC director and TV and radio presenter Ian Grant says, "that most New Zealanders today have forgotten what church their grandparents were staying away from," many people of retirement age they have an enduring memory of church or Sunday school. The hymns we sing today may bring back memories. My mentor Jim Wallace says he often finds people who remember how much church and faith was a part of their lives when they were young. For many it’s a pleasant memory they simply found got pushed to the side in the demands of adult life, for others it was a conscious decision to walk away and others they experienced something negative, for many of you here it has been at the core of your lives every day . The sage advice from the writer of the Hebrews to his readers and us was that life’s race was best run with our eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. So this morning I would want to encourage us all young and old to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. For people who are here who are at that stage of re-evaluating where faith fits in to consider looking at Jesus Christ. It’s great being part of a church community where people will help and encourage you in that journey. Maybe for you it is part of those expecting new things in your senior years. Of course you don’t have to leave it till you are mature and marvellous to put your trust in Jesus.
Let’s pray

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Jesus: The Solid Foundation for Exceptional Love (Luke 6:46-49)... Plain Talking From Jesus: Showing Exceptional Love In LIght Of God's gracious Offer of Blessing (part 5)

The picture that goes with our service this week is of this wonderful small house balanced on top of a rock in the Drina River in Serbia.  

It sprung to prominence because of this photo by Hungarian photographer Irene Becker that made the shot of the day on the National Geographic website in 2012, you can even download it as wallpaper for your computer… and since then the river house has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

But few people realised that it has been there for over 45 years. In 1969 a group of teenage boys spent much of the summer swimming in the river and they would haul themselves out on this rock to rest and sunbath and warm up. But while it was a peaceful place it wasn’t that comfortable. So they used the wood from a nearby abandoned shed to build a platform on the rock. Then the next year they floated and kayaked wood and building materials down the river to build the house. They still use the house for holidays, time with friends and to just get away from it all.

The rock must be solid and the house well-built because While it may look idyllic in these pictures the house has withstood storms and floods,…
…it’s been battered by torrents and the debris they hurl down flood fuelled currents, sometimes just by the skin of its teeth.  It’s a great illustration of the person in Jesus parable who builds their house on the rock, the person who builds their lives on hearing Jesus word and putting them into action… who show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offer of blessing, the flood comes up and the storms rage against it but it remains solid.

Over the past month we’ve been working our way through Jesus sermon on the plain in Luke’s gospel. Today we come to look at Jesus conclusion: His final challenge to that large group of disciples who had gathered to hear him. He finishes with a question and a parable to illustrate what he is calling his followers to do. Again it’s one of Jesus most vivid word sketches. Again like the parables of Jesus about choosing which teacher to follow that we looked at last week it has an element of humour and absurdity about it… I mean who builds a house without a solid foundation...Right? Who calls Jesus “lord, Lord’ and then does not do what he says?… Again Jesus cuts to the chase, that at the heart of being a disciple is putting into effect the teaching of Jesus… Allowing Jesus to open our spiritual eyes and to work at changing us at a deep heart level so the fruits our lives produce will be Christ like…To Love our enemies and not to judge... That we will be merciful as our father is merciful. 

One of the charms of the river house is the way it seems to be precariously balance on top of such a small rock. It almost seems to defy gravity and our better judgement doesn’t it? I don’t think it should work but it does. Again it’s an interesting illustration of the affront of Jesus words here that the solid foundation for life is to be found in hearing and obeying him.

 AS we’d seen Jesusrevolution of grace of good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release and liberty to the prisoner and oppressed and the declaration of the acceptable year of the Lord, had been going out to people the religious leaders of the day thought beyond God’s blessing that it had lead Jesus more and more into conflict with those religious leaders. In this sermon as well as giving ethical teaching to his followers Jesus places himself as the source of the true understanding and revelation of God. The sermon is about whose understanding of God’s character and kingdom is right. 

It’s the same challenge that Jesus gives to the world today. The person of Jesus and living by his teaching is the only way to truly know God and live a life of exceptional love. It’s kind of like asking us to build our lives on that little rock that sticks up in the river… amidst the swirl of different understandings and a current of tolerance that no one can make an exclusive claim to spiritual authority and truth.  But Jesus does. In the book of 1 Peter it talks about Jesus as the stumbling stone for many but also that the stone that the builder rejected has become the foundation stone, or the cap stone of the dwelling place of God. And Jesus stands as the contrasting rock for us, like the one in the Drina River that we either have to navigate round or land on and build upon.  NT Wright sums it up beautifully by saying;
“Jesus radical offer of new and abundant life is so all embracing and hence so all-demanding , that people try to find alternative ways. But they must be resisted, or the house will come down with a crash.”

In Jesus question about what it means to call him Lord, Lord and the subsequent parable we see that at the heart of discipleship is not knowledge but obedience, it’s not hearing but putting into action. It’s not about having the plan but doing the building. Earlier in the year we worked our way through the book of James and saw how James talks of faith and says that faith without works is dead. While historically people have taken that and wrestled with it at a deep theological level, how does it impact on the doctrine of salvation by grace not works, and they are good discussions to have, but for James it was very much like Jesus that our faith in Jesus should result in showing kindness and exceptional love. If you remember in James it was about resisting the pull of seeking status and comfort but rather to be caring for the poor and the disenfranchised. It was hearing Jesus words and putting them into practise. John Blanchard comments… (click for quote on screen)
“It is only when we add the discipleship of obedience to the raw material of truth that we have a structure that will stand the test of life.”

It is most popular to think of the floods and torrents mentioned in Jesus parable as difficulties and troubles that can enter our lives and threaten to tear it all down. We use storm and rough waters as a way of talking about those things. It is true and comforting to know that this passage says that in knowing Jesus and putting his words into action in our lives we have a solid foundation that will resist and preserve through those troubles and storms. But we can miss some other truth from Jesus words here. 

The first is that putting Jesus words into practise from this sermon give us the solid foundation for standing and withstanding floods of injustice and currents of evil in our world. In the many different pictures of the river house the one constant in drought and flood, still mornings or stormy days where you can just make it out amidst the deluge is the flow and current of the river, yet the rock and the house remain solid. The way to stand against injustice to effect change is to be about that exceptional love of Jesus.  Detrick Bonhoeffer in his letters from prison talks of ministering both to fellow prisoners and with equal compassion ministering to his captors. While he had written a famous book on Jesus Sermon on the Mount it was only in that situation that he actually learned what it meant to put Jesus words into practise… We see the impact of non-violence in the civil rights movement and Ghandi’s use of Jesus teaching in his struggle for Indian independence. On a more personal level… When we talked about lovingour enemies I used the example of John Perkins a black American pastor and activist who was beaten by the Mississippi State Troopers and yet continued to work for justice and the gospel in that state… later in life Perkins was asked how did you overcome racism and bigotry…? and he replied “

We don’t like to think of God’s judgement that often, but this parable very much picks up the wording of the prophecy in Ezekiel 13 where God talks of sending storms and floods to tear down the shonkely built religion and state of Judea, founded on the words of the false prophets. The house in Ezekiel looked good on the outside it was whitewashed, a term that has come into our vocabulary from that passage to mean a cover up, here the whitewash tried to hide the building being structurally unsound. But God sees through the whitewash, God sees to the heart and so God would send his judgement. Jesus teaching here was to a large group of disciples gathered from all over the region and it acts as a way of sifting them and us. To distinguish between those whose affirmation of Jesus Lordship is nominal, or only on the surface, and those who embrace his message and let it flow into the very heart of them to the point that it begins to flow out again  in such practises as those outlines in his sermon. It is this last group that are genuine in addressing Jesus with the words “Lord, Lord”. 

 Finally I want to briefly look at two ways this passage speaks to us today…

The first is a challenge to the church. Many commentators make a link between what Jesus is saying here and the great building project of Jesus day: Herod’s temple refurbishments in Jerusalem. In Mark’s gospel on the afternoon of Jesus triumphant entry they go sightseeing and Jesus disciples point to the wonder and splendour of the temple and Jesus says that it will be destroyed. Again it is not built on a firm foundation of obeying and living out God’s word in Christ… So it will not stand with the shift of empires. The church has built some amazing structures, both buildings and organisations. They are wonderful and amazing, some even stand the test of time. Sometimes however it is easy to see what we have built makes us seem more like the Pharisees who resisted Jesus teaching rather than Jesus and his revolution of grace. In New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquakes we have been asked to look at our buildings and our foundations to see if they are up to scratch. And it is a call for us to hear Jesus says that’s a good idea as well. It is a call to hear Paul’s call to the Corinthians that we had read out today, to look at what we have built on the foundation of Christ, or really if we are building on that foundation. Reformation and renewal and revival come from Jesus call at the end of his sermon on the plain to look to build on putting his teaching into action. 

Lastly, that Jesus speaks directly to us individually today. This concluding parable has the feel of a TV show or a film where the fourth wall is broken. Where an actor turns from his filmic reality and looks or speaks directly to the camera as if aware of who is watching. It has the feel of the picture of a boat on tossing waves in CS Lewis’s ‘The voyage of the Dawn Treader” in the Narnia series where the water in the picture begins to spill into the very room the children are in. Because Jesus question talks of calling him “Lord, Lord” and at this stage in Luke’s gospel only two people have called Jesus Lord, Peter after the great catch of fish, and the leprous man whom Jesus heals, and his saying isn’t a critique of those two. Rather Jesus is speaking in a proleptic manner (Don’t worry I didn’t know what that meant either). He is speaking forwards to all who would later call him Lord Lord… the readers of Luke’s gospel and on into this room here today… and to those who read this on my blogsite...

… On what will you build your life? Have you found the rock the solid foundation for life of hearing Jesus words and putting them into action?... 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sight Impediment, Horticultural Identificantion and Who to Follow (Luke 6:39-46): Plain Talking From Jesus: A Call To Exceptional Love in Light of God's Gracious Offer Of Blessing (Part 4)

 When we lived in Napier I had some problems with my eyes. It meant a couple of trips to wellington for operations and after that a check-up. Kris took me down in our car for the operations, but I went by bus for the check-up by myself.  I stayed with my good friend Keith and his family overnight and he took me into the clinic the next morning. The doctor decided I needed to have an injection of steroids into my eyes. The after effect of the steroid injection was that I had a white out… It was like a blizzard except the snow was in my eyeballs.  I couldn’t see a thing and wouldn’t until the drug dissolved into the fluid in my eyes. 

Keith had gone to visit one of his parishioners at the hospital while I was being seen and I don’t know how I did it but I managed to walk out of the clinic, down the stairs, clutching the handrail feeling each step with my foot and out into the carpark and off to where I thought we’d parked the car. And I stood there waiting for Keith to come back. I jumped when Keith spoke to me, because he had walked across the car park right up to me, nose to nose,  and I hadn’t seen him coming. He told me I was standing beside the wrong car and lead me to his car… we drove to a café in Newtown and he had to guide me across the road into the café and to a table. Over an hour a cup of coffee and some good conversation the café slowly came into view like it was emerging out of a deep, deep fog. After that Keith helped me to get to the wellington train station to catch a bus home.  He got me on the right bus and by the time I got back to Napier my eyes were fine again. I had to trust Keith to be my guide, I had to trust in his integrity his eye sight and in his friendship … I felt safe with him as my guide. 

Ironically that experience of blindness gave me some insight in to the parables or riddles that Jesus starts the last section of his sermon on the plains with… Can the blind lead the blind? Can you get a speck out of someone else’s eye unless you get rid of the log or plank in your own? You can judge a tree by its fruit… Some plain talking about being careful about which life guide we choose and also how the call to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offering of blessing calls us to have a deep change of heart that can only come, as we see next week, from Knowing Jesus listening to him and putting what he says into practise in our lives.  

The sayings of Jesus that we are looking at today are some his most vivid word pictures. We are used to thinking of Jesus words being very serious so we often miss that yes they are supposed to be funny… The blind leading the blind is absurd.  Can you imagine Keith driving me round Wellington without his glasses or simply that he was blind and I’d never noticed it. I couldn’t help think of that vintage cartoon character mr MaGoo where the humour comes from the fact that despite being as blind as a bat Mcgoo manages to bungle his way through.  Being unaware of a log sticking out of your eye…is also absurd…Can you imagine going to a doctor with a speck in your eye only to be greeted by someone whose right eye is impaled by a chair leg and he says sit still I’ll just get it with these razor sharp tweezers. Or growing a bramble bush and as summer comes to an end going down and looking to see if you’ve got grapes. It is what makes them memorable and just maybe as Jesus is saying some very serious things here that the best way to broach the subject is with humour… and it is absurd to look to the spiritually blind for guidance, to try and remove the speck from other peoples eyes when your own view is so flawed, and we do need to look for good fruit that comes from a good heart in those we let speak into our lives and lead us. 

To understand these parables we need to put them in the context of Jesus sermon. As we had been working our way through Jesus early ministry in Luke we’d seen that his revolution of grace had  reached out to those that the religious leaders of the day viewed as sinners and outcasts, it had lead Jesus further and further into conflict with them. In these saying Jesus is contrasting himself with these other teachers. AS NT Wright puts it ‘each is a about rival teachers, rival visions of the Kingdom, about solutions that leave the depth of the problem untouched.”

The blind leading the blind is a warning that those who cannot see cannot lead us. The application is that a student is not above their teacher, but when fully trained will be like their teacher. All the way through the gospel Jesus accuses the Pharisees and religious leaders of being spiritual blind to who he is and to the nature of God and his Kingdom. These spiritually blind leaders will lead the people into a ditch. They will only produce more people like themselves. We need to find a teacher and guide with faith and spiritual eyesight. It underscores the need for trustworthy and insightful guidance for life. Jesus with his display of God’s grace and mercy shows us that he is the one who can best fit that role. It’s also a challenge to his disciples because they would soon move from being simple followers to leaders, and for them then and us now we need as the book of Hebrews says to fix our eyes firmly on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith... 

The second parable Speaks very much into the way the Pharisees had focused on increasingly more minute details of the law and had missed the central and important part of God’s call to show mercy and love. They had come to focus more and more on Israel being separate and holy and had forgotten that Israel was to be the light of the world. In psychological terms what Jesus is describing is called transference, we look at the faults in others and it enables us to ignore our own inadequacies.  The heart if the Christian life is that we look at our own lives and we allow God to bring wholeness and healing to our lives and then and only then are we able to remove the speck from our brothers eye. Jesus uses the word hypocrite here, we can put on the mask of righteousness and holiness and try and maintain it by spotting the faults in others but to be a spiritual leader we need to have a deeper transformation, one that does not judge and criticise but is aware of the exceptional love they have been shown in Christ and his forgiveness and who will then use that as the lens to look and minister to others… and with love to address the specks looking for healing and wholeness.  Again it points us to Jesus as that teacher and leader, who has good eye sight who sees into the heart of human beings and can be trusted to deal with the logs and specks in our eyes.

It would be easy to think that it was just the Pharisees that has this problem of speck hunting instead of plank removing…but it is a danger for religious people and in particular the church down through the ages. The Russian Orthodox Church, so the story goes, were embroiled and consumed by a debate over vestments and clerical garb, at the time that the Bolshevik revolution occurred. They were in no position in that time to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the nation.  We have to ask, Are we just seack-ulators? Do we have tunnel vision zeroing in on the speck in each other’s eyes unaware of the plank in our own? and will we miss that revolution of God’s grace?

The third one switches metaphors from problems with impaired vision to a crash course in Horticultural identification. That you judge a tree by its fruit. A good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit. You can’t expect to get grapes off a brier or figs from thorn bushes.  I may have mentioned it before, but every time I read this passage I get this very bitter taste in my mouth…Because when we lived in Rotorua we had this tree in our front yard… It looked like a cheery tree… when it bloomed it looked like cheery tree blossoms and when it developed fruit they looked like cherries…Which I thought was great because the Carter family love cherries… In summer holidays when and where we can we will buy a box of them and drive along the road eating them and spitting the stones out of the sun and moon roof of our van. So I thought I’d taste these fruit and see how sweet they were… They weren’t at all… they sent my face into all sorts of contortions because of their bitterness… Yes they were nice looking fruit but it was a decorative cherry tree not an eating cherry tree. The fruit proved it…You could only tell the difference when you bit into them. Jesus says you can only tell what kind of tree it is, what kind of leader and teacher you are following, what kind of person we are, by the fruit in their and our, lives. What is in their hearts will eventually manifest itself in their lives. 

Now we need to realise that a tree only fruits at certain times and at the end of a process of growth maturing and times of flowering and blossoming and also barren times. We don’t judge people by a one off incident or a single character fault, but it’s a long process of what their life produces. In John’s gospel Jesus uses the metaphor from the old testament of the grape vine where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we are being pruned and tended by the gardener to produce fruit and the branches only being able to produce fruit as they abide in Jesus. It again is a call for us to look to Jesus and see the fruit of who he is and to look to and abide in him. As we’ve followed Jesus through the gospel story we see the fruit he produces good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind release and liberty for the oppressed, the announcement of the acceptable year of the lord, that gracious offer of blessing the mercy of God the Father being given to people, as we look forwards to the cross and we see the mercy and love of God in Jesus death to bring about our salvation, and establish the kingdom of God, the sending of the Holy Spirit on his people to continue to lead and guide us, to show us Jesus and his words. 

How does this apply to us today… There are many practical points from these three parables that help us to show exceptional love: That we need to open the eyes of our heart as we sang earlier, to allow ourselves to have spiritual insight and look with the eyes of Jesus. It may be as simple to pray and act out of the attitude” Jesus help me to see this person as you do?” The call to look at our own lives and see our blind spots and need for change and transformation and not to avoid that by looking at the specks in other people’s eyes. I try and pray when I see faults in others, Jesus show me how I need to change in that area or attitude… That we treat people like trees and look for the fruit they produce in the long and be willing to commit to tending and encouraging healthy growth. While Jesus uses the image of fig trees and grape vines, I’ve had different fruit picking jobs in my life, and sometimes like with berry picking to get to the good fruit you had to get past the thorns.  

Secondly, these vivid word sketches invite us to see a process of transformation in our lives, each parable invites us to look deeper and deeper into who we are. Exceptional love comes from more than just having our spiritual eyes opened, It invites us to go beyond simply comparing ourselves with others and the outward appearance, to being prepared to open ourselves up to the light of Christ and allow him to bring change and transformation so as we said last week we can look and act through the lens of Christ’s Love it goes right down to the heartwood, where our character and our fruit reflect that knowing and experiencing and obeying the love of Jesus. We need a change of heart. I actually believe that for Christianity to bring lasting societal change calls for us not only to work for it but to be about calling people to come to Jesus and have him change their lives. Evangelism and social justice go hand in hand...

But most importantly, in these riddles Jesus points us to himself as the guide and teacher that can be trusted. The call to show exceptional love in response to God’s gracious offer of Blessing is a call to come and to trust and to respond to the exceptional lover Jesus. How can we show such love unless we know the one who shows such love that we are led by one who shows such love, that we experience the transforming love and presence of one who shows such love, Jesus Christ. Jesus has come from the very heart of God and sees and knows it, Jesus righteousness is not a mask an act, it comes from a clear vision of the Kingdom and purposes and grace of God. The fruit that Jesus produces comes from a good and pure heart…that reflects the love and very nature of God. AS we are going to see next week the way for us to respond to that; to allow ourselves to have a clearer vision of Jesus as the mist falls from our eyes is to hear what Jesus says and to put it into practise in our lives.