Monday, 16 October 2017

Sermon Sunday 15 October: Houses on the rock and the sand


Matt 7:24-7 
1 Chron 28:1-10,20
Matt 7:13-29

I am always glad that I am busy, and have a house to maintain. Are you a builder? Or just content to sit? We NEED to build, as we need a house, but also need to build the church, and to build our lives.

Jesus was a workman! And seeks to build his church (Matt 16:18), but He builds through us.  But even if we do the work, we must always remember that He knows what to do, so we must listen, which is the key point of the parable!  His word is essential.  So the parable is at the end of sermon on the mount, which gives our instructions.

Just before this, Jesus talks of the danger of false teachers (Matt 7:16, 22).  These can be popular and persuasive (Matt 7:13), and even able to do miracles!  Jesus thus says that they are known by fruit not works, what they are not what they do. And do we think that we know better than Jesus?

The parable is of two houses, identical but with just one difference - the foundation.  The one which lasts is built on the ROCK.  What is this?    Jesus builds his church based on Peter's confession (Matt 16:16) of faith.          Peter's name means the ROCK, and we are likewise saved by our faith.  In Jerusalem there is the Dome of the ROCK, over the place of Abraham's sacrifice.  Our faith rests on the sacrifice for our sins by Jesus. In a building the foundation is not seen, neither is our faith immediately visible - Jesus is humble.

Paul also says that there is no other foundation (1 Cor 3:11). We must build on that rock to avoid disaster.  Note that we do not make the foundation - Salvation is a GIFT, only to be accepted by us.  What matters is that we build in the RIGHT place.  The wrong place is ultimately useless - where are you trying to build?

This matters because of the rain, flood and wind. They WILL, not might, come.  And there will be other problems!  But these do not affect the foundation.  Troubles are hard, but they are not disastrous, and so trouble need not disturb your faith.

In contrast, the house on the sand WILL fall.  In any case, we all die! But usually there is a warning first.  Often the wall will crack before it falls. What do we do?  Do not try to strengthen the wall (which is often our solution), but which will not ultimately succeed.   The only cure is a good foundation, so to move to the rock.  Swallow your pride!

And then?  You cannot live just on a foundation!  Build on it (1 Cor 3:10f), but with two requirements.  Let Jesus be the cornerstone (1 Pet 2:6f), and use good materials, not wood, hay and stubble!

But finally, that house is for this life!  I am looking to the one that Jesus is Himself building for us (Jn 14:2), in heaven.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Sermon Sunday 17 September: In a glass darkly

David always entertain us with a practical life snippet using real life artifacts. Today he brought a mirror along.....

Sermon reading: 1 Cor 13:12

If you are one of the older contingent, it is probable that the Bible sometimes misleads you.  The old King James or Authorised Version refers in our text to a glass, and we probably think of obscurity from dirty or poor glass. Today however, there are many translations, so we get an accurate translation.  Having an intelligible Bible is a great privilege since Wycliffe and Tyndale, who suffered great persecution to translate it.

Glass was actually very rare in Bible days, the reference is to mirrors, which were made in Corinth.  We take mirrors much for granted, but they are very useful.

Through them we know the world better; astronomical telescopes use mirrors to magnify the light.  There is actually a new one about to be put into orbit, an improvement on Hubble telescope.  The hope is that through it humanity will better understand the origins of the universe.  My hope is that it will then be clearer that God is the almighty creator, and no other explanation of origins makes sense.  "The heavens declare God" (Ps 19), and mirrors aid that declaration.

Through mirrors you can know yourself. Mirrors help us to see what we otherwise could not, such as our faces.  A mirror is a reminder that we need to know ourselves better, and if so, we should not forget (Jas 1:23)

We have a mirror - what is it?  We are helped by looking at the context of our verse; the next indicates that it is:
            Christ - who is received by FAITH, through which we are saved
            Christ - who gives HOPE of something better than this life - we can have confidence
            Christ - who reflects the nature of God so that we LOVE Him.  A mirror gives a reflection, and Christ is the image of God (Heb 1:3)

If Christ is THE mirror, we can become a mirror, as we are created in God's image (Gen 1:27).  We should reflect God's glory (2 Cor 3:18), by transformation, and through loving Him - both by the Spirit.  We can then do two things,
            We are able to show Jesus- as in a car headlight, which has a mirror to reflect the light ahead
            We are able to warn - as the reflector in a tail-light helps warn others

But it can be that we reflect darkly: then the view is poor.  If so:
            Get somebody to help us - remember the log and speck (Matt 7:3f)?
            Polish the mirror - do what we can to understand Him better
            Improve the lighting - by the work of the Spirit

And then?  Again look at the context!  A reflection is good, but it will be better in the future: we will see Him face to face (1 Cor 15).  But for now - enjoy His presence (1 Cor 14)!

Prof David T Williams
Theology (retired)

Monday, 18 September 2017

St Bartholomew’s 160th Celebrations

I feel moved to share with the congregation of St Patrick’s the celebrations of St Bart’s, Alice, this week-end. St Bart’s is, in a way, our ‘mother church’ as when the Hobart Houghtons left St Bart’s to live in Innisfree, Hogsback, they built St Patrick’s. The two congregations used to picnic together at Hogsback at Christmas time. We were invited to participate in the celebrations.

1 Our Contribution to the celebrations:

Liz Thomas gave advice to the St Bart’s planning committee on how to manage their celebration which they implemented and were grateful; Derek Fivaz made a section of the crucifix that was used in the service; Carol Nieth created flower arrangements for the service; we lent our bishop’s chair for the Archbishop and I wrote a history of the church that was sold for funds and used by the bishops for their speeches. We enjoyed the functions and they appreciated the support of St Patrick’s.

2 The celebrations covered a wide range of activities:

Chief Burns-Ncamashe, who lives in the Chumie Valley, gave his subjects an impassioned speech on their history and later made a presentation to the Archbishop; Bishop Ebenezer Ntali spoke at the Gala Dinner on our heritage and the positives of the missionary legacy; Archbishop Thabo Makgoba preached on social justice and the need for principled stands at the colourful Communion Service. It was noticeable to see the mutually respectful relationship between the church and the Chief. The Archbishop explained that he had apologised to the chief for the damage done to his people by colonialism and the chief made a presentation to the church in appreciation for its moral stand.

3 Significance of the Church in local affairs:

The celebrations were fun and an impressive get-together of the diocese and interested partners. What was noteworthy was the respect for our heritage and the role of the missionaries; respect for conservation and the green lobby; harmony between the leadership of the church and that of the Rharabe Gwali tribe; and the sincerity and leadership of the Anglican Church in making principled stands for social justice and a more equal society. The Anglican Church leadership gives positive leadership and hope for our country and is not scared of criticising wrong doing.

We left the festivities with renewed hope for the church leadership of the Anglican Church and glad that we could have been part of the ceremonies. It was very valuable being part of the wider Christian church.

Trevor Webster
18 September 2017

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The art of practising the presence of God

Norma touched on something this Sunday in such a practical way that We need to come back to it and make it our own on an ongoing basis.

The Old Testament reading (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28) was the story of Joseph which formed the backdrop to Norma's message. It presented a familiar situation of the old father, Jacob who send his favourite son to go and check on the rest of his sons, where family politics created an almost unimaginable cruel scenario of brothers plotting to kill the favourite brother, Joseph, by throwing him in a well. One brother, Reuben, tried to safe his him by convincing the others to rather sell Joseph as a slave to merchants, who then resold him in Egypt.

What a harsh situation. If we imagine for a moment what crossed Joseph's mind...
  • Where was God at this moment?
  • Does God really care?
  • How can He allow this to happen?
This brings us to the the art of practising the presence of God :
  • irrespective of circumstances
  • irrespective of one's health
  • irrespective of one's situation
An example to draw from is the life of Brother Laurence, a 17th  century monk (1614- 1691),  a Godly man, born in the eastern part of France. Due to extreme poverty of his times, he joined the army and fought in the Thirty year War. He lost his right arm, returned home and decided to join the Carmelite order of monks. He had no education and was allocated to the kitchen, where he repaired sandals for the rest of his life. Despite his lowly position in life, many people were drawn to him. What was his secret? He lived the art of practicing the presence of God.

James Goll  wrote a book called "The lost art of the practice of the presence of God" in which he states that if you hunger for more of GOD and less of yourself, these principles are for you.

New testament reading: Romans 10: 5-15 v 8 “ the Word is near you, your mouth and in your heart”

We need to take an inward journey,  proceeding into His presence.
  • Mary at the feet of Jesus, hair loose ( showing her vulnerability), opening herself up, to express her utmost love & respect for her Master.
  • Moses at the burning off ( vulnerable), in awe, waiting, the expectation
  • The Last Supper: that intimate meal with Jesus' closest friends....discussion time, clarifying "how would we know".....and then just talking.
In Brother Lawrence's own words: “this is not an easy task. But the benefit is great:
  • draws down God's grace abundantly,
  • leads one's soul the ever-present vision of God's love for us, as He often calls us " my beloved " through out the Bible
This is the road to intimacy ....daily, making time to interact with Jesus, whether you're getting up and looking at the sunrise, seeing God the creator displaying His artwork, or walking in your garden, hearing God speaking thru' His beauty. Maybe stopping with whatever you're doing, bowing in a moment of reverence and awe....respect for who God is.

Quietness of the soul -we need to wait on Him

If we yearn to be intimate with Christ, we must learn to be still. We can learn from the story of  John Ortberg consultation with his mentor, Dr Dallas Willard. John complained about the little change that he saw in his church. He asked how he could achieve a deeper level of spirituality in the church. He wanted to know what he should do, to excite and enthuse the people.

Dr Willard's answer was: “ You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy and confidence in your everyday life with God”

John was disappointed and pointed out that he was not asking about myself! He wanted to know what to do about the congregation. Dr Dallas stressed that the main thing you will give your congregation, just like the main thing you will give God, is the person you will become. If your soul is unhealthy, rushing around in “doing” lots of things, trying to achieve huge numbers......your soul will be unhealthy. So you rather should spend time with God....sit and listen to Him, without interrupting Him, or telling Him what He should do. Just being with God is enough.

The practice of the presence of God

  • Meditating on Scripture......that is a tool of quieting oneself . Here we are not talking of New Age meditation or Far East methods of being still, Concentrate rather on maybe on ONE verse, one word that speaks to you.....and let the Holy Spirit speak to you through that portion.When we let our minds dwell on Scripture, the Holy Spirit, who inspired all Scripture, interprets it in our hearts, and brings our spirit into harmony with God.
  • Be ready to deal with distractions....your mind begins to wander …..outside interruptions. What should we do? Madame Guyon suggested to focus on Jesus. Imagine you are sitting there with Him, looking into His eyes, waiting for Him to do the talking. 
Initially you may think this discipline of solitude, is a waste of time. However, the discipline of solitude is one of the most powerful disciplines in developing your prayer life. The more we practice this, the more we hear God's voice and the more we will be able to practice His presence!!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Sermon Sunday 17th July: How are we remembered?

There are many people, indeed most, that we do not know, but there are some people we have all heard of!  One of these is Mark, the writer of the second gospel. This was probably the first to be written; some suggest that it might have been Peter's gospel, Mark acting more as his scribe.  Apart from the gospel, there is very little that we know of Mark, but what we know can encourage us.

The first reference is an embarrassing incident (Mk 14:51), where most think that the young man who ran away naked was Mark himself.  Definitely an embarrassment, but then all the disciples should have been upset by Gethsemane - they all failed!  And that applies to us as well, as it was our sin that took Jesus there and to the cross.  Incidentally, it was right for Mark to leave his clothes, right to avoid unnecessary suffering.  If he had held he would have been arrested.  Is that us?            Do not be captured by possessions!  They can easily hinder our service, possess us and not we them.  "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Tim 6:10).

The second reference is another embarrassment (Acts 15:36).  Paul and Barnabas fell out over Mark, who had let them down.  He was then rejected by Paul, who quarrelled with Barnabas and separated from him.  There was a "sharp contention", surely wrong? And indeed Paul later specifically rejects contention (1 Cor 13:5).  Indeed later, Paul changed his mind (2 Tim 4:12).  We should be willing to admit mistakes.  We should just note that Mark's weakness was even after seeing the cross and a miracle (Acts 12:12).  Faith comes from more than even wonderful experiences such as this, but is God's gift to us.

After that experience, Mark was taken on by Barnabas, his uncle (Col 4:10).  Barnabas' name means "son of encouragement", and he lived up to it.  We should encourage our children, and especially our children in the Lord, seeking to build them up, and accepting that all fail from time to time.  The Holy Spirit, the comforter, works through us.

Mark was one who knew failure - like each of us, but then, like all of us, including Paul, found the power of Christ over weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Mark then became a great disciple, as a great helper!  He was not one of the twelve, but did a wonderful service.  Not all are called to lead, not all are called to preach; the church is a "body" (1 Cor 12:4f), made up of people with many different inter-relating ministries.  Mark found his ministry in writing, and as such is still helping us and the Church as a whole.

In that he was guided by the Holy Spirit in inspiration.  He left a legacy and possibly even more; there is a tradition that he was the originator of the Coptic church, very strong in Egypt and surrounding countries.

How are we remembered?

Prof David T Williams

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sermon Sunday 18 June: Day of touble

Reading: Psalm 27
Trouble is one of the facts of life - how do we deal with it?

 The Book of Psalms resonates with experience, so can help us to deal with it; it is a help in worship and life. It is good to share your testimony, so that your experience can help others! David was one who experienced a life of blessing, elevated from being a shepherd to a king. But his life was also full of trouble, being pursued by king Saul for a long time, and having a couple of rebellions, one led by his own son, who was killed.

He was often afraid, often in trouble. And much was his own fault; the results of his sin with Bathsheba were far-reaching! Are you, like David, afraid? He had lots of reasons! Many do not apply to us, but there are many others. Of what are you afraid? The psalm gives confidence, but is it wishful thinking? Is it unrealistic? What was David's solution (Ps 27:4)?

The presence of God, who does help us to deal with our troubles, both in the immediate, but also in the gift of eternal life, when all troubles are past. David rested in the ultimate good. When we know the reality of God, all else loses significance. Paul could speak of his troubles, far more than most of our's (see 2 Cor 11:23f) as light and momentary (2 Cor 4:17)!

 As Christians, this is fulfilled in Jesus, who facilitates the presence of God with us. The Psalm gives us three results of this.

  •  Hear my voice (Ps 27:7). We can tell him our trouble. Importantly we can know that God hears - we can relate to Him through Jesus. So especially in trouble, do not forget to pray. Turn not your servant away (Ps 27:9 (RSV)); 
  • We can know that God is with us. Such assurance is not there in the OT, but we are forgiven - through Jesus. But although God gives us access to Him, do not exclude yourself! 
  • Teach me your way (Ps 27:11) - so we may not make mistakes and cause trouble - much is our own fault! We can know the way - through Jesus (Jn 14:6), not just of final salvation, but of immediate need. Do not think that you know better than God! The Bible often promises blessing, but in obedience (see Deut 5:32-3). 
 We can share David's relief, we WILL know his goodness (Ps 27:13). Firstly in the land of the living, as all troubles overcome in death and eternal life, AND in the land of the living - thank him for many blessings now Worth waiting for? (Ps 27:14) INDEED! And he gives strength now