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The Kingdom of God – Tom Wright

20 Oct

What would random passers by say about what Jesus had to say? Most would likely refer to “render unto Caesar…”. It would suggest the idea of keeping church and society separate, letting each other get on with each other, but not affecting the other. But Jesus meant something almost completely opposite to this when He said it. Yet the original Greek could almost be rendered “pay back Caesar what he deserves, and n his own currency”, which also then means that you need to pay God back what He deserves and in His own currency.

When Jesus refers to the Kingdom of God coming He really does mean it is the time for the Kingdom of God to come into actuality. Yet we seem to reread this with a modern dogma, affecting our understanding of it.

Another well known story from the Gospels is the Prodigal Son.in it, Jesus is plugging in to ancient Biblical themes, such as Jacob and Esau. It is also a challenge to us with the fact that it shows that the Kingdom of God is not coming, but present! Jesus’ teaching was not just to teach us about God, but to teach us about who He was and what He was doing at the time!

In the “cleansing of the Temple”, Jesus is not just cleaning out those that shouldn’t be there, He is harking back to Exodus and the Passover and all that that was symbolising, of Israel being called out of Egypt to go and worship God. It was a cry declaring a new end to exile, to send His people out into the world, to worship God there.

Jesus was not teaching a new religion, nor how people can get to Heaven when they die. Nor was he launching a new protest movement, or offering a new at to message to be taken into or our thinking. He was instead bringing us a message of a new theocracy, of God’s rule on earth via the Cross. And yet the Western world has created its own thinking about how God and the World interrelate, having the world getting on with its own thing while Heaven can get on with its own thing. It has taken the message of the Gospel and shrunk it down to just dealing with individual sin. Whilst this is important, it is not all that the Gospel is for.

The Gospels are not giving us a pleasant picture, a moral teacher, or any of the other often suggested ideas about Jesus. They are tacking us about the resurrection, and difference to the world that it makes. It calls us to die to this life, and all that the world tries to lead us in, and instead rise to new life in Christ.

The problem we often have in our reading of Scripture, and the Gospels in particular, is that we are normally only reading a small snippet of them, rather than the wider context of the speaks of money, monarchy and so on, all things that we experience in our world today. We need the larger narrative if we are to understand the Gospel.

“The Hebrew Scriptures offer us a torso, the Gospels offer us a head for that torso”. The Gospel is the culmination of the story of Israel.

The Gospels tell us about how to be fully human.

The Gospels tell us about how God fulfils his promises to His people.

The climax of the story of Israel must be the climax of the clash between God’s kingdom and the empires of the world.

The challenge for the Church is that we can focus on the Kingdom, how we relate to the world, or the Cross, how we can be forgiven. It is rare for them to combine the 2. This is because the Western world has fallen for the Enligtenment and then demythologised the stories of the Bible.

The world has failed to understand how God is in control. When they say “why doesn’t God do something?” They are expecting God to send in the tanks, yet when we see God doing something is is with the qualities that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount.

The world sees us as needing to be meek and mild and quiet. Yet we are called to speak truth to power. And when we do we are often confronted with anger that we have done so.

Jesus seeks to find us and meet us where we are and then calls us to follow Him from there. We see that in  how He responds to Peter when He reinstates him, when He meets Mary in the garden and Thomas in his doubting.

Comments during Questions:

The parables are not just what we read. Stories like the Prodigal Son are left on “cliffhanger so” whip th no true conclusion, in order to get people thinking and engaging with the story

In our society we do not tend to think that adult Christian education is important. We need to bring in the reading of Scripture in chunks, having people read an entire book in 1 go to the congregation.

If the Church wants to bridge the gap with society it needs to be involved in its community and become self-authenticating.

In the last 200 years the Church seems to have forgotten that the is such a thing as Christian political theology.

We do Easter and Holy Week quite wrong. If Lent is to last 6 weeks then Easter should last up until the Ascension!

Psalm 72 – the people that matter the most are the people at the bottom of the pile – The Church, and bishops as its leaders and representatives to the world, is called to speak up for those to people and positions of power.

Talk given at Brambletye 1 Venture Camp 2013

8 Aug

I delivered this talk to a group of over 50 young people aged between 11 and 14 at the CPAS Venture Camp Brambletye 1, speaking to Exodus chapter 11. The references to other people and their talks relates to the other talks before mine:

Has anyone ever done anything wrong? (hands shot up)

What happened when you were found out? (I asked one of the leaders and the essence of the answer was that punishment was the result)

Well today’s reading from the Bible tells us about what happens when Pharaoh does something wrong and what punishment he receives.

Let’s fill in what has happened since we left Moses at the end of Anna’s talk (the talk from the previous night). We left Moses as an 80 year old shepherd who has been sent by God to free God’s people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt and to take them to the Promised Land.

In chapter 5 we see Moses going with his brother, Aaron, to speak to Pharaoh, saying “The Lord, the God of Israel, says “Let my people go!”” And Pharaoh says “No!” In fact, he says more than just “No!” He says “I don’t know who God is” And then he makes the Israelites work even harder!

Then in chapter 6 God says “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. Because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” But it took a while!

First God turns Aaron’s staff into a snake in front of Pharaoh. Then 9 plagues are sent. And before each plague was sent, Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go. And each time Pharaoh says no. So the following plagues came upon Egypt:

• Blood

Plague of blood lego

• Frogs

Plague of frogs lego

• Gnats

Plague of gnats lego

• Flies

Plague of flies lego

• Livestock

Plague of livestock lego

• Boils

Plague of boils lego

• Hail

Plague of hail lego

• Locusts

Plague of locusts lego

• Darkness

Plague of darkness

In each of these plagues, only the Egyptians were harmed. No Israelites suffered from these plagues. Sometimes, while they were happening, Pharaoh said he would let the Israelites go, but in the end he decided to say no to God’s command after each and every plague.

Pharaoh said that he didn’t know who God is, and so like Anna told us yesterday about God telling Moses who He was, God is now showing Pharaoh who He is and how powerful He is. Pharaoh might be able to make the Israelites work harder, but God controls the whole earth and can protect those that He wanted to protect. Each time that Pharaoh said no, the punishment got worse. At first it was a bit inconvenient, then it became annoying, then it started to cost, then it started to hurt, then it started to kill. The last 2 of the plagues I have mentioned showed God’s absolute power. The locusts killed all the crops, the very thing that, if you remember the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers, brought the Israelites to Egypt in the first place. This showed that in the same way that God made things happen He could make them stop happening. The darkness stopped the Egyptians from doing anything, yet the Israelites have light where they lived. God showed that He even has control over who gets sunlight and who doesn’t!

And so, finally, we come to our reading. God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh about the final plague on Egypt. All their first born will die! Not just a few, not a lot, not even most. All! All first born children and animals will die, as God shows Pharaoh just who is in control. Time and again Pharaoh has gone against God’s will. Each time he has been told that if he doesn’t do as God commands then there will be a punishment. And each time God keeps His word and punishes Egypt for its disobedience. And again we see that God will show that there is a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians, that the Egyptians will be punished while the Israelites remain protected from the plague (v7). So why such a harsh punishment? Why so many deaths? Why all the plagues? What’s so bad about not letting the Israelites go? Well, we must first realise what Pharaoh has been doing when he has said no to Moses he was, as I have just said, going against God’s will. And there is something that we need to realise about God’s will, it is perfect.

• For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

• And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

So if God asks us to do something, these verses tell us that because His will is perfect and He wants only good things for us, we should know that what God asks us to do is for our own good. He has our best interests at heart. So when Pharaoh says “No!” he is going against God’s perfect will for his life. And so we are back at the question I asked at the start, because by going against God’s will Pharaoh is doing something which we call sin. Sin is when we go against God’s will. And it’s not like it’s something that only a few do, as Jim pointed out when he was interviewed last night. We all get things wrong, we all sin. (click) Indeed, the Bible tells us this in Romans chapter 3, verse 23 – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

So, just like Pharaoh, we all at various times in our lives go against God and His perfect will for our lives. And this is a big problem, because of something else that is written in Romans. In Romans chapter 6, verse 23, it says “For the wages of sin is death”. So the punishment for going against God’s will, no matter how small it might seem to us, is death. And, just as we see in our reading tonight, God’s final punishment on Pharaoh is the death of the first born of all Egyptians, including Pharaoh’s own eldest son.

Now this may seem incredibly harsh, but we have to remember that God is holy and perfect. And just as we cannot reach the standard God asks for, so He cannot reduce the requirements of us. If God were to allow anything into His presence that is less than perfect then God’s presence would no longer be perfect. Just like when you add colouring to water, and the water is no longer clear, so God’s pure and perfect presence would be stained by our sin. So when we are judged for our lives God won’t be saying that almost perfect will get you in, only perfect will do. And it’s not like there is a way to escape the punishment. God has told us that sin will be punished and He shows us that we can trust that when He says He will do something that He follows it through, just as we have seen with all the other plagues before this.

So we have seen that the Bible tells is that God’s will is perfect and that there are consequences for going against God’s will. And that means that it’s looking pretty bad for Pharaoh right now, and we’ll see what happens to him over the next couple of nights. But it also looks pretty bad for us, doesn’t it. Because, as we have seen, the Bible tells is that everyone sins and that the punishment for sin is death. So does this mean we are all going to die? Well, as you will remember from a moment ago, we saw the verse from Romans 6 “For the wages of sin is death” but that is only the first half of the verse. You see it follows on by saying “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And this is great news for us, because it means that we have a chance of being saved from the death that we deserve. Because of Jesus we are saved. He has taken the punishment we were supposed to have when He died on the Cross. And so we are able to live free of the threat of death and instead live our lives for Jesus every day.

Palm Sunday 2013 talk

1 Apr

Luke 19:28-40
After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.” They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “I tell you, ” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

So, it’s Palm Sunday,


or rather to the Jews in this story it is the Sunday before Passover. It is a time when they remember being saved by God from Pharaoh by the killing of the first born of those who didn’t mark their doors with the blood of a lamb.

Ok, so there’s a group of people who are looking forward to a big festival with a massive family meal in less than a week’s time.

And then this great teacher enters in on a donkey. And being good Jews they all remember the writings of the prophets, particularly Zechariah, who wrote in chapter 9 verse 9:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So they know people have been suggesting Jesus is something big and now He comes riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah said would happen with the returning king. And so what do they do?

In verse 36 it says:
As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

(Here I got a group to take a coat from a selection I had brought in and throw them down on the ground)

But this is Palm Sunday, so something is missing in this reading. The account in Luke doesn’t mention anything about palm branches. Neither do the readings in Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark do, however, mention branches being laid down. And John’s gospel names the branches as palm branches.
(I used the group who threw the coats down to wave the flags, as we didn’t have palm branches, and shout “Hosanna”)
So there we have a re-enactment of Palm Sunday. How do think everyone in Jerusalem is feeling now that Jesus has come along on a donkey?

So how did it get from all that cheering, shouting hosanna and waving to what happens on Good Friday when they all shout “Crucify”?

Well, in order to get there we need to go back a bit, about 200 years to 166 BC. It is a time of great upheaval in Israel as their recent rulers, the Greeks, have told the Jews that they have to start worshipping the Greek gods. As you can imagine, some of the Jews are not happy about this and they rebel against Greece and, under the leadership of Judas Maccabee, they win their independence. They celebrate by taking palm branches to the re dedication of the temple and they became a sign of Jewish nationalism, which also links with the thought that Judas Maccabee might be the promised saviour for the Jews. Certainly he got rid of those who were stopping them from worshipping God. So they wave their palm branches in victory.
We move a few years forwards now, about 24 AD, and we find that Israel has been conquered by Rome. And whilst they are still free to worship God, the Jews are still a rebellious bunch. In fact they get so rebellious that they deface some Roman coins, stamping a palm branch symbol over the Roman markings.


So we return now to the crowd cheering Jesus and we can now see something a bit different from how it may have seemed.
(I asked the group from earlier back up and got them to bring their palm crosses)
You see, this

is how you are supposed to hold it.

But sometimes we go from this

To this

Upside down cross

Which can look like this

And all of a sudden we see that maybe I got it right without even knowing it as a child.

(I then ask the group to hold their crosses as swords, raise them up in the air and shout “Here comes the king!”)

And when waved while cheering for a king or in victory it can sometimes look like this

Doesn’t look pretty does it!

So what we see has happened is that the Jews see Jesus riding into Jerusalem and think that they are about to kick the Romans out and be free to worship God without any interference, and we know that they are thinking purely a military saviour by the palm branches being waved and laid on the floor in front of Jesus. They are completely clueless as to God’s plans and so, when Jesus merely agitates against the Jewish leadership with his actions in the temple and His teachings that infuriate the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, they see Jesus is not the man they were expecting and, rather than seeing if God was going to do things differently to how they wanted it they reject Jesus and their cheers become jeers on Good Friday.

And why was this? Because they were more interested in their own desires than seeking God’s.

Have you read my blog over lent? If not, I have been putting a link on the Ascension Facebook page every day as I have been reading and meditating on Psalm 139. And while I was preparing for today I remembered 2 verses in the psalm that are relevant here.
Verses 17 and 24.
In verse 17 we see David telling us just how much God’s thoughts are worth. They are so precious that he cannot put a value on them. And then in verse 24 he asks that God lead him “in the way everlasting”. Or, as another translation puts it, “guide me down Your path forever”. David gives up his own desires because he values God above all others. And he asks that God help him keep to living as God desires all of us to live.

This is what the Jews had forgotten, what they were missing as Jesus entered Jerusalem. They should have been looking for what God wanted to do, not waiting to see if He would do what they wanted Him to do. And they should have been asking that God helped them to do as He wanted them to do, rather than doing what they wanted.

And the same is true for us today. It s quite interesting reading the confession today as it started by talking about when we are impatient. We should be looking to what God wants, in His time, valuing that above what we want and asking Him to help us live out that life He calls us to live. If not, our voice joins with the crowd on Good Friday that shouted “Crucify!”

Lent preaching series – The First Commandment

17 Feb

This is the second part of this year’s Lent series at Ascension Church, focusing on the 10 commandments. This is my talk, due to be done later this morning.

~ ~ ~

My focus for this talk is just going to be 2 verses, Exodus 20:2-3, the first commandment.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.”

And the first question that I asked when looking at this was “What is God saying?” Looking at the words, it divides itself up into 2 parts, which are, quite helpfully, verse 2 and verse 3!

Verse 2 is a reminder of who God is and what He has done.

He has:

  • Brought the Israelites out of Egypt, where they were slaves
  • Protected them from their enemies, both the Egyptians and the Amalekites
  • Provided food and drink for them in the desert

AND SO ALSO

  • Been the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
  • Fulfilled a promise to Abraham, that he would have descendants numbering more than the stars
  • Saved their ancestors from famine by taking them into Egypt in the first place

Indeed, in the run up to this verse God shows His power with thunder, lightning, cloud and a trumpet blast.

The second part, in verse 3, God says what the agreement is if they are to be His people:

  • No other gods before/besides Him

And with this He is very clear. It’s not:

  • No other gods when you feel like it
  • No other gods at weekends
  • No other gods during the day

It’s none of these or any other exceptions. It is simply this:

  • No other gods AT ALL!

Why is this? Searching through the Bible I have found 9 mentions of God being a jealous God. All except 2 are in either Exodus or Deuteronomy. God is jealous for our attention. He wants it all, and rightly so. He is God!

But a new question now arises. Why? Why does God set these rules? Why is He jealous?

The answer is a simple one, God wants relationship.

We only have to look back to Genesis to see this:

  • Garden of Eden – God walks with Adam and Eve

God walks in the garden with Adam and Eve and they meet as you or I do, face to face.

  • On day 6, God created us so that we could have a relationship with Him

We were not created as a random whim of God’s; He created us in His image, so that we could have a relationship with Him.

  • God IS Trinity

God exists in relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is in His nature for Him to seek relationship, thus we are created to also seek relationship.

God knows who He is and how amazing and awesome His is. He knows the appropriate level of relationship between humans and Him and how we should behave towards Him. So God sets up an appropriate model with this commandment – I am your God and will look after you; you are my people and you won’t go running off whenever you feel like it. Yes, it is on God’s terms. But if we believe that God is perfect and just then the terms He sets are also perfect and just.

Also, God seeks to set a standard that His people can apply to their lives in every way.

For example, in Hosea we see the comparison between sexual adultery and spiritual adultery, where Hosea is told by God to marry a prostitute and then suffer the shame, ridicule and pain of seeing her go off with other men. God then tells Hosea that this pain that he is feeling is only a fraction of how He feels when His people run off to other gods. Wayward Israel is compared to a prostitute.

And so we now come to look at how this applies to us.

God wants a relationship with each of us. Not a shallow acquaintance relationship where at best we acknowledge Him every now and then, but a deep relationship. In a survey taken amongst young people, it was found that despite modern technology and social media, 53% of young people still feel lonely. All too often we can see or portray God as a therapist or a butler. God wants more. God doesn’t want to be our Facebook friend; he wants to be meeting us face to face and heart to heart.

We can often chase after width rather than depth, head knowledge or a busy church social life, rather than heart knowledge of God. But no depth means that the relationship with God can’t grow. It is like the parable of the sower and the seeds in shallow soil. They die in the sun because they don’t have their roots in a deep relationship with God, the good soil.

In Psalm 42, David writes about deep calling to deep. Deep relationship calling to deep God. A deep relationship in God helps us find our true identity, our identity in Christ. When we find our identity in Christ, we are no longer bound up in the ideas that the world would have us label ourselves with. We are no longer our sexuality, our broadband speed, our number of friends (on Facebook or otherwise), our car or our job. When we find our identity in Christ we are no longer bound by ungodly ideas of who we are but free to be who we were made to be in Christ Jesus.

This is why God sets this commandment to the Israelites, why He sets it first and why it is still relevant today. Because it frees us to live for Him.

And when deep calls to deep, even when it seems like there is no end to the sun that is beating down on us, we keep going because God keeps going.

When deep calls to deep we keep going, because He keeps going! (This last line must be credited to Ali Etheridge, director of SoulNet)

SoulNet session 6

8 Feb

Sunday morning 2 – Ali Etheridge

Psalm 42 – crying out for depth

Relationships are shallow.
For all the social media and methods of communication, 53% of young people would say they are lonely.
We need to be deep youth workers, making deep relationships with our young people.
Young people see God as a therapist and a butler: there at their beck and call to help them and there to listen to their problems, but nothing more.

Chasing for width rather than depth, rather than depth over width, leads to poor soil that won’t grow anything.
Depth comes from finding our identity in God’s love.
v11 – When we put our hope in God we go deep with Him.

Our call is to raise up a generation of deep young people.
When deep calls to deep we keep going, because He keeps going.

SoulNet session 5

8 Feb

Sunday morning 1 – Mike Pilavachi

In our weakness God shines through.

1 Samuel 16 – Samuel anoints David
David wasn’t the oldest, the biggest, the best looking. He was the one after God’s own heart.
David stayed faithful and did the little things well.
Don’t let negative comments rob you of God’s calling on your life.

Psalm 27
Don’t decide not to be afraid, but remember who you put your faith in.
Choose to dwell in the house of The Lord (v4)

Recommended book:
Celebration of discipline – Richard Foster

SoulNet session 3

8 Feb

Saturday morning 2 – Matt Summerfield

3 – Baton passes in the Bible
Not many.
2 Timothy 2 – Paul passes the baton on to Timothy and tells him to pass it on and get them to do the same.

4 – Cheer like crazy!

See the potential.

Give time to those you are passing it on to.
There are no “nobody’s” in the kingdom of God

Empower to live.
Pour our lives into our young people – do life with them and invest in them.
Kingdom work builds up, sends out and reproduces.

Build people up, rather than blow them up!

Archbishop Cranmer

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