March 9, 2014

Sunday with Sammy


9th March 2014

What say you?

John 8:2-11
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

The Ash Wednesday reading for this year is from John 8:7… What is interesting about this passage is that it didn’t actually make it into the Bible until the 3rd century. It is unlike the usual way that the rest of this gospel is written – ignoring the pro and epilogues, we will cover those another time, but if you get the chance do have a look at the ending of John’s Gospel…all three of them! It is thought that the copyist who inserted it here was possibly trying to illustrate Jesus saying that he will pass judgement on no-one later in the chapter, in verse 15.

Anyway, Jesus had returned from the Mount of Olives, and is being harassed yet again by the Pharisees. They have bought a woman to him who they claimed had been caught committing adultery (nothing is ever said about the man with whom the alleged crime took place you’ll notice!) This married woman knows there is very high chance of being killed by the then common practice of stoning under the guise of the Law of Moses, as written in Deuteronomy 22. The Pharisees tell Jesus this has to be the outcome, and are trying to test him, again. They want him to either go against the word of Moses, and as a teacher of the Jewish faith of course he could not, or they want him to go against the authority of Rome, as Roman law had deprived the Jews of their rights to stone people to death – they thought they had him!

The gospel says, When they persisted in questioning him, he straightened up and told them, "Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." In the same situation now, knowing what we do, as the woman, you would be petrified! It is a wonderful thing to say, and it should be said more nowadays if you ask me – ok then, the one of you who is without sin and has NEVER done anything wrong can judge… that would make people stop and think before acting in certain ways! Of course, there WAS someone there who was without sin – Jesus – and he and only he had every right to cast that first stone…and we can only imagine the carnage that would have occurred after that.

What would have happened if one of the Pharisees had cottoned on to this, picked up a stone, handed it to Jesus and said ,’here you go then…’ But they didn’t. Thankfully. Because they understood not a jot of whose company there were truly in. There is a wonderful part when Jesus seems to simply ignore them, and starts to write on the ground with his finger. We’re not told what or really why., and there are many, many schools of thought about this, but in Jeremiah 17:13 in some translations it is written, ‘Those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth for they have forsaken the Lord’ …but in the Pharisees’ trying to get Jesus on the back foot and make a mistake, his calm demeanour must have had them all hopping from foot to foot in madness – how funny! So, Christ neither found fault with the law, nor excused the woman's guilt; nor did he tolerate the pretended zeal of the Pharisees.

People are actually self-condemned who judge others, and yet do the same thing. All who are any way called to blame the faults of others, are especially concerned to look to themselves, and keep themselves and their lives in order. In this situation, Jesus did precisely what he came into the world to do, and that was, to bring sinners to repentance; not to destroy, but to save. He aimed to bring, not only the accused to repentance, by showing her his mercy, but the prosecutors also, by showing them their sins; they thought to ensnare him, he sought to convince and convert them. Check mate to Jesus! AND he declined to meddle with the magistrate's office. Many crimes merit far more severe punishment than they meet with; but that isn’t for us to concern ourselves with. When Christ sent the woman away, it was with this caution, Go, and sin no more. If you help to save the life of a criminal, you must also help to save their soul with the same care. They are truly happy, whom Christ does not condemn.

And as we moan that our lives could be so much better, they could, remember, be so much worse. When I think about when Jesus was writing in the dust the following Lenten poem by George Herbert springs to mind…

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;
Purge all my sins done heretofore:
For I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.
May God bless and keep us all safe,
healthy and though able to cast a stone
be always unwilling to do so.
Christ's favour to us
in the forgiveness of past sins
should prevail with us,
So, Go then,
and sin no more. Amen

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March 16, 2014

Sunday with Sammy


16th March 2014

Paul and Potholes

They say that when something is going on in your life then you see it EVERYWHERE. The car you bought because you had rarely seen one in that colour is suddenly parked everywhere you go. Everyone else is having a baby it would seem to the couple struggling to conceive. You hear nothing but the bright future of the school you have just decided to take your child from early as you thought there was a better chance for them elsewhere! The list is pretty endless.

Personally for me, it’s a word or phrase at the moment and that is…calling. During Intercessional Prayers on Sunday the person was asking for prayers of those exploring vocation to the priesthood – ‘woah that’s me!’ I thought.

In a home group yesterday, Brian Wilson from HIllsong said, ‘You must walk worthy of the calling for what YOU are called.’ Again, I wondered if he was talking directly to me. Of course he wasn’t, but my mind is tuned to that word and turn of phrase at the moment due to my circumstances.

Now, something that effects every single one of us at the moment is potholes! Whether you drive and need to avoid them, or you don’t and walk around praying that the cars avoid the ones still filled with water.

I have to admit, and this won’t be the last time you hear this from me, but I have an immense respect for St Paul. Not only because of the way he continuously admitted what he had done wrong – not to get forgiveness after forgiveness, because I hope you know that when you ask God with all sincerity for His forgiveness and Grace you get it, and you don’t then need to feel any guilt about what you have been forgiven for. You must not, however, go and do it again. As I wrote last week when Jesus dismissed the adulterous woman he said, ‘Go, and sin no more’.

Paul’s main writings in the Bible are his letters to various Churches in Christendom. Paul set up the church of Ephesus as described in Acts 19 and its urgency in his detailed explanations of that congregation’s relationship with Jesus Christ could be due to it having been written not long before his death around AD62. Let’s have a look.

Paul writes in Ephesus 4 ‘In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

So in his typical style he starts with a firm instruction. Get going you lot! Stop messing around, you know what to do, what are you waiting for? If I get out of here, I’m going to come over there and give you a good shake!! But I can’t so you’ll have to read my words and do as you’re told – through me – by Christ Jesus. Paul never took any credit for his work, he always said it was the work of our saviour Jesus he did. Paul also talked in verse 3 about being quick to mend fences. This is hugely important, and as Christians we must take the initiative. I speak from very recent experience when I say you WILL be nervous, you will want to back out, and yes, you may have the door slammed in your face, you might even be verbally abused, but God knows you did it for the right reasons and He loves you all the more for it. Also, as was in my case this week, you might not get the door slammed in your face, in which case you have a win-win scenario.

Paul continues with ‘You were all called’ oh here we go again ‘to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.’ ‘But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.

But what, you are thinking, does this have to do with potholes??

Well. Not much to be honest, but we do have them in common and probably will do for a while yet!

However, everything, as we’ve discussed previously happens for a reason, and when I stopped the car earlier today to avoid a rather large pothole I looked to my right and saw a minutes old new born lamb taking its first tentative, wobbly steps. Had I been driving I would have missed that sight. That wonderful sign that Spring is on her way, that through all the trials and tribulations, rain and darkness, there is new life springing forward, new hope is on the horizon…and together, in oneness, with our heads held high (being careful if we’re running of course) we can all reach the goal that Paul talks of, through commitment to God and in loving one another. The road is the same, the potholes may make us stumble, but by wearing the whole armour of God we may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil!


Thank you Father for new life shown to us in your wonderful creation. For the buds on the trees, the daffodils and crocus’ for the lambs and piglets and for each one of us, born because of you and saved because of the birth of your precious son. As we continue to draw closer to you this Lent, remind us quite how wonderful your world can be, and bless each one of us every day. Amen

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April 6, 2014

Sunday with Sammy


6th April 2014

Questions... Questions...

Questions, questions… Life is full of them. The Bible is full of them. We, ourselves, are full of them, and children, well…anyone who’s ever had a four year old will marvel at just how many they can come up with! But with every question there is a real thirst to know more. Of course, not all questioners are seeking the truth, some are just plain nosey; while others skirt around the edge’s causing confusion and difficulty rather than coming straight to the point. Nod if you can think of someone like that! And Wise King Solomon had more than his share of awkward questions.

One person who always set out to alleviate awkwardness and be uncomplicated, and generally managed it was Saint John, and for the next few weeks we will look in more depth about what we know about him, his writings, and learn more about the Jesus he knew as he saw him. There is a wonderful saying that ‘John is like a magic pool in which an infant can paddle and an elephant can swim’. His language is generally uncomplicated, and the syntax and vocabulary he used are simple but oh so powerful.

His Gospel, the fourth, fell out of favour in the 19th century, as the search for the ‘real Jesus’ continued, and people favoured Mark’s writings, being more historical. Thankfully, contemporary interest in the early church has restored him and his works. John is credited with not only that 4th gospel, but also a series of epistles which were placed almost at the end of the Bible. You might hear someone reading in church say, ‘herein endeth the epistle’. An epistle is simply a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually in the form of an elegant and formal letter with emphasis on instruction and information.

Even though at the time of writing, John was between 50 and 60 years of age, he would have been one of the youngest followers at the time Jesus was alive on earth. So, having written a fairly comprehensive gospel, why would John have felt the need to write these letters to people?

Well, it was written to counter docetism, which is the posh name for a heresy declaring that Jesus did not come "in the flesh", but only as a spirit. The letter also outlined how Christians are to discern true teachers: by their ethics, their proclamation of Jesus in the flesh, and by their love. We can assume that John was living in Ephesus at the time of the writings, as that was where he died around the year 100AD and much like St Paul, John wrote his letters to encourage Christians. He wanted them to know the truth. Then they would, hopefully, recognise false ideals, subsequently then knowing how to turn back to Christ. Some people in these churches believed wrong things. The people who had taught them these wrong things had been members of the church. However, they had moved away from the faith and they had left the church (1 John 2:19). So John intended to correct these wrong ideas in his letter.

One wrong idea was that Christ was not really a man, back to docetism. It was thought that He seemed to be a man but was not a real man. John taught quite clearly that the Son of God came as a real man. He lived his life here on earth as a man. The Christ actually died as a man. The man, Christ Jesus, rose again from the dead.

Some people taught that Jesus was merely a man. They taught that he was not really God. They did not believe that God could die. They said that the Christ came upon Jesus. Then the Christ left him again before he died. John answered this. He showed that Jesus is one with God. He is the Christ, who gave his life for us. No mere man could take away our sins as the Lord Jesus Christ has done.

As I said, John wrote this letter to encourage the Christians. He wanted them to know the truth. Then they would recognise false ideas. The letter shows that Christians are children of God. They know God as Father. If God is their Father, then they are all brothers and sisters. John shows them the kind of life that the children of God should live. They all share the life that the Lord Jesus gives to them. This is eternal life, which has no end. John wants all Christians to know that they have this life. He wants them to be sure about this.

John wrote about the truth. This is how we know the truth. We know it because we have met Jesus. We know Jesus, so we know the truth.

This is what the letter says to the Christians.

  • They can be sure about Christ (1 John 5:20).
  • They know what is true about God and Christ. 1 John 2:21; 5:7, 16, 20
  • They know that the Son (Jesus Christ) has come. 1 John 5:20
  • They know that Jesus came to take away their sin. 1 John 3:16

Let’s look at the letter in more detail, this week we will start with the 1st verse through to verse 4. It reads…

1 John 1:1-4  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

Verse 1 - John wrote this letter about Jesus, who is the Word of life! We use words to communicate with people. Jesus is God’s way of communicating with us. Therefore, the ‘Word of life’ is the Lord Jesus. And the ‘Word of life’ also means the message of the gospel. John wrote about the Lord Jesus. And he wrote about the life that Jesus gives. This life is for those who believe. The Word produces life. This is about the good news of Jesus Christ who is the life. The Word, that is the Lord Jesus, always existed. He was alive before time and the world began. Christ and the message of life came from God. This was God’s purpose from before creation. The Lord Jesus came into the world to achieve this purpose.

John and those who were with him knew the Lord Jesus. They had heard what he said. They had listened to what he taught. They were with him. They actually saw him. They watched him. They saw all that he did. They lived with him for 3 years. They knew that Jesus was a real human person. Some people denied that God really came as a human person. But he did come. He is Jesus Christ. John says that they have had a real experience of him. Jesus Christ was God with them here on earth.

Verse 2 - Jesus came from God to show us real life. The Lord Jesus came from God. He became a real man. He showed us what real life is. Real life is life in the spirit. He has that life and he came to give it to us. This is eternal life. God gives it to those who believe in his Son. John was a witness to this life. The life was with the Father. Jesus showed that life to us. John and those who believed in the Lord Jesus saw this real life. They had received it. They proved that the message is true.

What they saw was eternal life. God gives this life. John knew that he had this life now. And this life will never end. John wants to share this life with the readers of his letter. This life is in the Lord Jesus. Those who know Jesus have this life. The Lord Jesus, who is life, was with God the Father. But he came to us and he showed us this life. These witnesses have received this life from God. Eternal life comes from God the Father.

Verse 3 - When we believe God’s message, we join God’s family. Those who first believed spoke and they described what they had seen. They repeated what they had heard. The Word of life (that is, Jesus) appeared to them. And we need to believe in him. They heard what he said. We too need to hear what he says. And we need to believe it. The message of life in the Lord Jesus was not only for them. John declares it to those who read his letter. All people can now see and hear God’s truth in Jesus. To know Jesus is to receive the life that God gives by him.

The message of the gospel is that people may believe in Jesus. Those who believe will receive eternal life. That life comes from God. They will share the same life that John and his friends had. They will know that they have a new life with God. They also can become good friends by having the same life. They will join with John and his friends in the family of God. This life unites Christians with God who is the Father. It unites them with Jesus the Son of the Father. Jesus is one with the Father. Therefore, he also is God as the Father is God. There is one God but three persons. The third person is the Spirit of God.

Verse 4 - John wrote this letter as if he were an agent for all those other witnesses. ‘These things’ are all that is in the letter. He writes so that both he and the readers may have much joy. It would give them all much joy if they believed the message of the gospel. The purpose of the letter is that the readers would share the same life as John and his friends. God gives this eternal life to those who believe in his Son. The people living in the time that John was writing his letters could not go and find the man Jesus, he wasn’t there, they were living in another time – much like we are now – in another stage of the Kingdom, that of the Holy Spirit. John desperately wanted the people that he had come to know and love, his brothers and sisters in Christ not to forget their teachings, and that even though he was no longer living on earth with them, he was very much alive, in the Spirit, and alive in those who truly believed.

I leave you with, of course, a question. If a light bulb when switched off is still there and very much a part of the lamp, why therefore is Jesus Christ not very much a part of us, even though with him it is the Spirit (light) that remains and the shell which is gone to the Father? The answer of course, is He is!  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Amen.

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