Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Silent Minion

The problem was, growing up in a trailer in New Brunswick there weren’t a lot of folks around who needed butlers.

And my favourite butler has been “Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth”  you know him, he was Batman’s butler.  And my favourite Alfred has been played by Michael Cane, but the actor who played him in the most movies is Michael Gough who played the role of Alfred for three different Batmans.  Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.

And butlers are supposed to be like children, seen and not heard.  They are simply a part of the background.  They open doors, press clothes and present visitor.  And while they seem relatively unimportant the world of their masters would fall apart without the ever-present butler.

And every once in a while they are good to blame, you know “The butler did it!”  Whatever it was. 

This is week 7 of our “Minions: Playing Second Fiddle for God” series.    And you will recall that when Leonard Bernstein was asked what the most difficult instrument to play was, , he replied without hesitation: “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

This morning we are going to step back into the New Testament and into probably the most familiar story of the bible, the Christmas story. 

Being Father’s Day I thought it would be good to take a look the man God entrust his son to.  Jesus’ earthly father.

He’s always the forgotten one at Christmas.  Oh, we remember the Christ child, how could we forget him, even in the shopping malls they sing about the birth of Christ and his name is even included in the very word Christmas.  Without Christ, there would be no Christmas and so he’s remembered. 

And his mother, you remember “Round yon Virgin.”  After all the virgin birth was pretty spectacular, wasn’t an everyday occurrence.  And we are still talking about it.  And to give Mary her due it took a lot of faith to trust God for the miracle that he had promised. 

We even remember the bit players in the drama, we talk about the shepherds and the Wiseman, we cast them in the Christmas pageants and talk about how lucky they were to be a part of the first advent. 

The innkeeper even gets a speaking role in the play and he’s basically the villain of the piece.  Who’s forgotten?  Joseph, you know Mary’s husband, the man who would raise Jesus the Son of God as Jesus the Son of Joseph.

We don’t know a whole lot about Joseph, we know that he was a carpenter, that he lived in Nazareth and that his family was originally from Bethlehem.  We know that his father’s name was Jacob and that he was a descendant of David. 

We know that it was Joseph that the Angels came to in a dream to warn about King Herod looking for Jesus, and he took his family to Egypt.

We know that when Jesus was 12 years old that Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and we know that Joseph taught Jesus his trade.  But then we don’t hear anymore from or about Joseph after that.

And it seems that everybody had a voice in the gospel account of the first Christmas everybody except for Joseph.  We hear from Mary and Gabriel, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds and the Magi.  We even hear from Herod, and he was the bad guy. But not a peep from Joseph.  He’s as silent as the best of butlers. 

We presume that because at his crucifixion Jesus asked John to care for his mother that Joseph died before Christ was crucified. 

In Mark 6:3 Jesus is identified as Mary’s son and his brothers are named but there is no mention of Joseph so it’s not that much of a stretch to presume that Joseph died before Christ began his ministry.  And we know that within the community, that Joseph was considered to be the Father of Christ.

You know the story; Joseph was engaged to a young girl from Nazareth named Mary.  Historically and culturally we can almost assume that they had been engaged from childhood, although we don’t know that, but you know what happens when you assume?  Yeah sometimes you’re right. 

And so, we don’t know how long they had been engaged but we do know that they had entered into the last stage of their engagement, which was known as the Betrothal.  Now Betrothal was much more serious than our engagement.  It lasted for about a year and was a legally binding contract, which could only be broken by death or by divorce. 

I’m sure that the couple was doing all the things that couples do to get ready for weddings.  You know the bride is rushing hither thither and yon, and she keeps asking the groom, “So what do you think honey? Is this right? Should we do that?  What about flowers and the reception?

And Joseph being the good groom is nodding and smiling and saying “Whatever you think dear.” 

And I don’t know exactly how she broke the news to him, but at some point in all of the wedding arrangements she must have done a “I’m so excited about this, and what with Rachel coming for the wedding, and Martha, and Elizabeth, did I tell you that Elizabeth was pregnant?  I did?  

That is such a neat thing, you know I’m pregnant too, maybe the boys will play together when they grow up, do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as the beef?”

And Joseph does a “whoa, what did you say?” and Mary would respond and say “Do you think we ought to have fish at the reception as well as beef, you know in case there are vegetarians there?”   “No not that, the other part.”

“Oh, you mean about Rachel coming down, didn’t I tell you?”

Seriously I don’t know how Mary did it, how do you tell your fiancé that you’re pregnant and it had nothing to do with him.  Maybe she read him the Christmas story out of Luke. 

However she did it though it must have left him completely stunned. How could she possibly have betrayed him, and then expected him to believe that entire line about her still being a virgin? 

The father was the Holy Spirit, right, like what turnip wagon did she think he fell off of?

And the conversation must have ended with Joseph feeling betrayed and Mary feeling hurt because he didn’t believe her and doubting her integrity. 
But what could he do, he had trusted her, he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but for her to go and . . . it just wasn’t right. 

So what was he to do?  Well there were a couple of options, he could have her stoned to death, according to the law that was the punishment for adultery and during the betrothal period it would be considered adultery. 

The other option of course was to simply break off the engagement, but remember that by this time it could only be done with a formal divorce. 

The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man, and so he decided to simply go through with a quiet divorce so Mary wouldn’t be disgraced publicly and get on with his life.  But life is never that simple, is it? 

That night as he tumbled into a trouble sleep, something remarkable happened.  An Angel appeared to Joseph, I wonder if Joe’s first thought was “I knew I should have skipped the chilli and ice cream before I went to bed.” 

Well the angel had a message and the message was “trust her, Joseph, trust her.”  The angel explained how the child that Mary was carrying was indeed the Son of God and that Joseph needed to go ahead with the wedding.

It’s kind of interesting what happened here.  Perhaps you’ve never noticed it, or if you have then perhaps it didn’t bother you.  So, after the angel has clued Joseph in we read in  Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded. He brought Mary home to be his wife, 

You say, “Ok, what’s the problem?”  Well no problem really but In Luke Chapter 2 we are told how Joseph had to go to Bethlehem to take part in the Census listen to what it says in Luke 2:5  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Kind of beat that one around for a while, Matthew says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Luke calls Mary, Joseph’s fiancée. 

I wonder, and I realize that I’m speculating but I wonder if Mary had to live with Joseph and his family until the wedding because her parents wouldn’t let her stay when they found out she was pregnant?   

I wonder if the wedding was perceived to be a shotgun wedding, what type of wedding would it have been, they didn’t have shotguns back then? 

I remember a friend calling me years ago and telling me that him and his girlfriend were getting married and it was going to be a formal wedding, that her father had painted the shotgun white. 

We really don’t know much other than they were married and the scriptures tell us that she remained a virgin until Jesus was born.  The children she had after Jesus,  belonged to Joseph. 

If you know the Christmas story you know that the Roman authorities called for a census and that everyone had to return to the town of origin and for Joseph that meant Bethlehem. 

Let’s pull down our map, a couple of land marks.  Sea of Galilee is here the Dead Sea is here and here is Nazareth and from there  Joseph needs to  take his pregnant wife, probably by donkey 110 km to Bethlehem where the child would be born. 

Not the type of trip recommended for someone who was 9 months pregnant.  When Angela was 8 1/2 months pregnant we moved back from New York, but she got to drive a brand-new Plymouth, my dad would say she would have better off with a donkey but he’s a Ford man.

So that’s the story, but what do we learn about Joseph?

Let’s go back to the story: The angel appears to Mary to let her know that even though she is a virgin that she is going to give birth to the son of God. 

She tells Joseph who is a little skeptical and he decides to call off the engagement, which would seem to be an appropriate response.

That night as he sleeps he’s visited by an angel who tells him that Mary is telling the truth and we read Joseph’s response in Matthew 1:24  When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.

So the first thing we discover about Joseph was that Joseph Trusted God  We are looking at the story from this end and there are still people who call the virgin birth into question. 

I mean there are so called Christians and even so called Christian Churches that say the virgin birth didn’t really happen, that it isn’t really important that we believe it. 

What a crock, I don’t know if that’s a correct theological term or not, but if you can’t believe that Jesus was born of a virgin what can you believe about Him?  But they say, “that’s impossible!” 

Of course it’s impossible, that’s the entire point.  If you’re going to believe that Jesus was divine then you’d better believe that he had a divine beginning. 

But there are people today, who even though they have the gospel account, even though they can read that Jesus lived died and rose from the dead, can’t believe that he was born of a virgin.  Think about poor Joseph. 

The girl he planned on spending his entire life with tells him “I’m going to be a mom, but you’re not going to be a dad.”  What do you say? 

I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty, but I would suspect that I’d be close to 99.99 % certain that nobody in here would have believed Mary’s story.  And if you would, I have a lovely bridge I’m trying to sell, goes between Dartmouth and Halifax.

Mary would always know that she was a virgin.  She knew exactly what she had done, and what she hadn’t done, she wasn’t naïve, when Gabriel told her that she would have a son she responded in Luke 1:34  Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

But Joseph, all he had to rely on was the word of Mary, and the word of an angel.  And it would appear that the message from the angel was the turning point.

I’m sure that Joseph must have thought, “I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it, I’m not even sure that I’m happy about it, but if it’s of God then count me in.” 

Think about it, Mary wasn’t the only one that had to put up with the whispers and snickers about her situation.  Joseph was the one who would have gotten the blame. 

“What a heel couldn’t even wait ‘til they were married.”

The women would have looked down their noses at him, and the guy’s would have joked about him.  And what would Joseph have said, “Look it’s not like that at all, she’s still a virgin the child is the Holy Spirit’s.”

And you can just imagine the guys “Sure the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant, nod nod, wink wink, now Joseph thinks he’s God.”

And yet as far as we know once Joseph was visited by the angel he never doubted the parentage of Jesus. 

Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, Luke 3:21-23  One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened,  and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”  Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his public ministry. Jesus was known as the son of Joseph.

So not only did Joseph trust God but God Trusted Joseph Think about it, just for a minute, put yourself in God’s place. 

You’re going to come to the earth as a helpless child, you are going to be raised and fed and nurtured by two humans, just plain ordinary peoples.  Who are you going to trust to do the job?

I’ve been a parent for almost thirty three years and I’m not sure that I would trust me with the responsibility.  It was Samuel Butler the English writer who wrote “Parents are the last people on earth who should have children.”

One of the first indication of the type of man Joseph was is found in Matthew 1:19  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

He could have had her killed, it was certainly an option as laid down in the Old Testament, probably wouldn’t have been the first time it happened, and probably wouldn’t have been the last. 

Even if it doesn’t happen today the temptation is there, Loretta Lynn made this statement “My attitude toward men who mess around is simple: If you find 'em, kill 'em.” There are those here whom I would suspect would subscribe to that theory as well.

He could have done that, but he didn’t.  He also could have made a public spectacle out of Mary, he could have told everyone that he knew that she had slept around on him, could have dragged her into the middle of town, humiliated her and demanded that the engagement be called off.  

No instead he decided to break the engagement quietly and the thing that is most telling about his character are the words”He did not want to disgrace her publicly.”

Joseph also brought his son up in a Godly home.  There’s an interesting note in Luke 2:41  Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.

It was the desire of every devout Jew to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, but it wasn’t always easy, so most people didn’t make the trip. 

But we are told that Mary and Joseph made the trip not just the years that it was convenient, but every year. 

If we were to pull up the map again, here is Nazareth, where Jesus lived with his parents, and here is Jerusalem, which is right next door to Bethlehem, so a distance of about 110 kms that’s further then from here to Truro. 

And there wasn’t just Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  We are told in the scriptures that there were at least two brothers and at least two sisters, and they didn’t have a minivan to go in, they were on foot. 

Most of us would find it inconvenient if we had to drive to Truro for a Christmas Eve service, but Joseph felt that it was important that he celebrate Passover in Jerusalem with his family, every year. 

Jesus’ life as a child is pretty much a mystery to us except for the story about the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, but we are told this in Luke 2:52  Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people.  That's a pretty good report.

And Joseph had to take at least some of the credit.  Jesus may have been the son of God but it was Joseph who raised him.

And maybe Jesus would have said with Michael Jordon “My heroes are and were my parents. I can't see having anyone else as my heroes.” 

Over the past seven weeks we’ve looked at those who didn’t get to play a lead role in the story of God.  And the reality is, most of us won’t get to play the lead either.  But the story wouldn’t have been complete without the supporting actors and actresses.

I watched the Minion movie again the other day and in the introduction the Minions were between masters, and as they simply existed the narrator said “They felt empty inside, without a master they served no purpose.” 

From the beginning, we were designed to be in fellowship with God, and when that is missing we are like the minions, we feel empty inside, without a purpose. 

The Master is waiting for you.   

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mighty Minions

Moose come in herds, sheep come in flocks, Bats come in cauldrons and Minions come in bunches.  I just made the minion part up.

We know that sometimes Minions come alone, like Tonto, Bernado, he was Zorro’s minion, and Igor.

But sometimes Minions come in bunches.  Robin Hood had his Merry Men and Snow White had her Seven Dwarfs and Gru had his minions.

This is week six of our “Minions: Playing second fiddle for God” series and you’ll remember how the Oxford dictionary defines a Minion as “A follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one.”

Over the past five weeks we’ve been looking at those who didn’t get to play the lead role in the story of God and the impact that they ultimately made in that story.

Today we go back to the Old Testament to look at a bunch of minions.

It was a time of reflection for David; 2 Samuel Chapter 23 begins by telling us these were the last words that David spoke.  Now whether or not they were literally the last words that David spoke, or the last words of importance that David spoke, or the last recorded words David spoke, we don’t know.

I’m working on my dying words.   I will motion to those who have gathered to say their final good byes to me to come closer and then I will say, “I want you to know, I hid the three million dollars in the . .  .”  I know the timing is going to have to be spot on, but really life is all about the timing.

We just know that these were pretty important words, spoken by David, the King of Israel.  And after he has spoken these words, which revealed the covenant between those who would follow him and God, David, begins to reflect on where he’s been, the struggles that brought him to this point and the people who helped him to achieve everything he had achieved.

And that brings us to the scripture that was read this morning, which contains the story of the Mighty Men of David.

And so, in this reflection of the people who made David what he was,  he begins by naming three. Jashobeam, Eleazar and Shammah.  Three different men, from three different backgrounds with one common goal.  And that was to serve the one who was their leader, because every minion has to have a leader.

Their stories are stories of incredible bravery and military prowess.  To start with we are told that Jashobeam killed eight hundred men with his spear.

Eight hundred men with a spear, now these weren’t unarmed men, we aren’t talking about Jashobeam in the same way that people talked about Lt. William Caley during the Vietnam War.

This was war and Jashobeam was involved in a battle against other armed men.  As my grandmother would have said “He must have been some awful mighty good.”  We don’t have the details only the highlights.

Eleazar was the next on the list and we are told that he stood alongside David in a battle with the Philistines and fought until he could no longer lift his sword.  Of course, Eleazar had probably learned how to be tough at a very early age considering how he was identified in the bible as “Eleazar the son of Dodai, in some translations it’s the son of Dodo.”  And you thought you got picked on in school.

And then there was Shammah, who is credited with defending a field of legumes against the Philistines, man there must have been whole different set of priorities back then, I would have said, “Hey guys you can have the legumes, and the Brussel sprout field as well.

But those aren’t the exploits that I want to deal with this morning.  They were just introductory remarks, for the writer of 2 Samuel and for me.

The real story starts around vs. 13.  Let me tell you about it.  The story happened many years before 2 Samuel was written; as a matter of fact it happened when King David was still just plain old Dave.

If you remember your bible stories you’ll recall how David the Shepherd boy had saved the day when the Giant Goliath challenged the army of Israel to battle.  Nobody was willing to take the giant on but David stepped forward and defeated the Philistine giant with his slingshot.  You do remember, that don’t you?

From that point David went on to become King Saul’s most effective officer, leading the king’s army into several victories.  After a time though Saul started to get jealous of David’s success and began to feel threatened and so he decided to kill David.   Well David wasn’t amused and not wanting to be killed he headed for the hills.

The thing that put David in a difficult spot though was his integrity.  You see he knew that Saul had been anointed of God, and even though Saul had wandered away from his calling David wouldn’t harm him.

Saul was King, David wasn’t, at that point David was just Saul’s minion, and so even though Saul was trying to separate David’s head from his shoulders David refused to retaliate.

Instead he continued to fight against the King’s enemies at the same time as he was trying to avoid being killed by the king.

Kind of confusing, isn’t it?  Well, David has surrounded himself with what many people would have called losers, as a matter of fact listen to how the Bible refers to them  1 Samuel 22:1-2  So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.

And so, some scholars tell us that Adullam Cave became a kind of headquarters for David and his warriors.  It provided them with a location that was semi-secure from King Saul and his forces and still allowed them to wage guerrilla warfare against the invading Philistines.  Let’s pull down a map here.  Some familiar spots, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and here is Adullam.

And at one point in the story, David and his soldiers are holed up in Adullam, Saul is looking to destroy them, the Philistines are presently in a superior position as a matter of fact we are told that they had actually set up camp here in the Rephaim Valley and from that point had taken over the town of Bethlehem.

Now we all know what Bethlehem is famous for right?  “O little town of Bethlehem”, it was the birthplace of Jesus, but long before that happened it had been the birthplace of David.  And as he stands on the hill overlooking his hometown David starts to get a little wistful.

That ever happen to you, things get tough and you start thinking about how much better things used to be.  Maybe in another time or another place, and you begin to think “what if we” or “if only” or “I miss”.  That stuff never happens, does it?  Sure it does, it’s called “nostalgia” and if we were honest most of us would agree with Lou Reed when he wrote  “I don't like nostalgia unless it's mine.”

Well, we may like not the nostalgia of others, but we all like our own, which made David normal.  And in the middle of his daydreaming he says “Boy, I’d sure like to have a drink from that well just outside the gate at Bethlehem, the water was so good from that well, it was sweet and cold, and it was really great water.”

Now I don’t know if what David really wanted then was a drink of water or just to escape to the past.  The water from the well outside the gates of Bethlehem was probably no different than the water anywhere else in Palestine.  It is doubtful if it was colder, sweeter or clearer. But as George Ball said “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.”

As a matter of fact, if the water had of been that great then I’m sure that it would have been mentioned somewhere else in the Bible but it wasn’t.  So presumably it was just an ordinary well producing ordinary water.  The only difference is what it represented to David.

David wasn’t necessarily thinking of water as he was thinking of a simpler time, a more secure time.  A time that he wasn’t on the run from the King, a time when he wasn’t fighting for his life on two different fronts.

The type of water that David was craving is called nostalgia.

But never the less, these three guys heard David.  And they immediately start thinking and scheming.  You can almost hear them, “you know, David is a great leader.”  “Yeah, he sure is”  “and he doesn’t ask for much” “nope, he sure doesn’t” “you know we ought to go down to Bethlehem and get him a glass of water.”  “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, we could be killed.”

I’m not sure of all the details of the conversation all I know is what is written in the Bible and it tells us in 2 Samuel 23:16  So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the LORD.

I don’t know how they did what they did, but they did.  And they brought the water back to their friend and said, “Hey boss, look what we got you, some water from the well outside the gate of Bethlehem.”

He must have been floored.  What were they thinking?  I’m sure that his first response must have been “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, you could’ve been killed.”

And then he says “It would be wrong for me to drink something this valuable, instead I’m presenting it to God as a sacrifice”, and he poured it out.  By the way, that is what a sacrifice is; when you give up something you’d really rather keep.

Neat Story huh?  But what does it teach us today, June 11th, 2017?

Well, first of all it tells us: When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve a Risk.

I can only imagine the risk those three guys took to get that jug of water.  They had to sneak through enemy troops, approach the main gate of an occupied city, lower a bucket silently into the well.  And then, then they had to do it all over again, this time carrying a jug of water.  Doesn’t sound like a walk in the park.  Then again if it was easy everyone would have been doing it.

Can I ask you a question?  Sure I can, after all I’m up here and I have the mic, right? When was the last time you took a risk? Any risk, outside of driving in the city? When was the last time you took a business risk? When was the last time you took a personal risk? When was the last time you took a spiritual risk?

You probably used to do it a lot more when you were younger didn’t you?, It seems like the older we get the more comfortable the cave seems and the more dangerous the road to Bethlehem looks. But life is about taking risks; it shouldn’t be about playing it safe.

After all the secret isn’t who gets the most years in their life but who gets the most life in their years.

Maybe Charles Lindbergh said it best when he made this statement, “I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime . . . Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or the misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?”

The reality is that you will never discover how far you can possibly go without taking a risk.

Every noteworthy contribution every made to society has started out as a risk. Beginning with Adam and Eve deciding that maybe cooked meat might not be so bad and trying to figure out how to go about harnessing fire, right up to and including space travel and beyond.

Human progress entails risk taking. It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s not profitable.

These guys weren’t the only people in the bible to take a risk. Think about how different our bible would be if Abraham had said no when he was asked to leave everything he had to pursue the vision of a great nation.

 That’s a risk when you are told that you will be the father of a nation when you aren’t even the father of a child.

What would have happened if Noah had of decided to play it safe and not become a boat builder in his old age? And if David decided that tending sheep had a better future then fighting giants?

What if Daniel realized that it was safer to obey the king’s command then to pray? And if Mary had of told the angel that she really wasn’t interested in being a teen age mom because she didn’t want to take the risk?

What if Jesus had of come to the conclusion that there was a brighter future in being a carpenter then being a messiah? Or what if he hadn’t wanted to take the risk of coming to earth at all?

If the apostles had of decided that it was too risky to leave Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit had come, would we still be painting our bodies and living in trees?

If Columbus hadn’t taken a risk on the earth not being flat would England and Europe be very crowded now, and Australia, Canada and the States would still belong to their original owners.

If Henry Ford hadn’t taken a risk would we still be riding horses? If Edison hadn’t taken a risk would we still be reading by candles? If Graham Bell hadn’t taken a risk would we be living without the telephone?

The face of the earth and the scope of human history has been changed by those who were willing to take a risk. Now I know that we can’t all be Fords and Edison’s but every one of us has the ability to change our world.

Every one of us has the ability to leave a mark with our life, but only if we are willing to take a risk.

The second thing we discover from our story is When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve Commitment

Not only does doing great things require taking a risk, it requires a commitment to the task.  It’s not going to happen right away, and we are going to have to move out of our comfort zone if we are going to get it done.

Sometimes Christians remind me of the guy who wrote a note to his girlfriend and it said, “My love, for you I would climb the highest mountain, sail the deepest seas, or swim the widest rivers. PS If it’s raining on Saturday I won’t be over.”

Often, I hear believers define their priorities saying it’s “God, family, church etc. etc.”  When in reality God falls a lot further down the list then we are willing to admit.

What do I base that on?  The fact that our commitments are demonstrated by our actions and not by our words.

When these three men decided to show their love and loyalty for their leader they did it in a tangible way.  They didn’t go and say “Hey boss, we just wanted to let you know that we thought about going to the well outside Bethlehem to get you some water, we didn’t do that but we thought about doing it.”

Because regardless of what people say it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the doing that counts.  So, guys it’s not enough to tell your wife, “Hey babe I thought about taking the garbage out.” You have to actually take the garbage out.

You want to show me where your commitment is?  Then show me your chequebook and your calendar and I’ll tell you what it is that you are committed to based on where you spend your money and more importantly where you spend your time.

And the third thing that the story teaches us is:  When We Try to Do Something Great it Won’t Always Work Out the Way We Expect.

I wonder what the guys thought when David poured the water out?  I’m not sure that is what they expected him to do with it.  They probably thought, “Boy, if we’d known he was going to do that we would have got it out of the tap in the bathroom.”

Sometimes we have think we have it all figured out, and then it changes.  And we wonder why.  Solomon in all of his wisdom reminds us in  Proverbs 16:9  We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan and dream and set goals, it simply means that when God steps in we allow him to change our plans.

Two weeks ago I spoke about John Mark.  When he agreed to travel with Paul on his first missionary journey he was trying to do something great for God, and then everything went south.

I’m pretty sure that Mark was disappointed, especially when Paul wouldn’t let him accompany him on his next journey.

But last week I travelled to Egypt and interacted with the Christians who are a result of that disappointment.

 Because Mark didn’t travel with Paul, he ended up in Egypt in 49, and that was the beginning of one of the oldest branches of Christianity.  

May I diverge for a minute to say that while in Alexandria I stood at the tomb of St. Mark, seriously at the tomb of the man who wrote the gospel of Mark and who in all probability walked and talked with Jesus.

I also stood on the platform of the Hanging Church where Christians have been worshipping for 1600 years and visited the Cavern Church where tradition says the Holy Family stayed when they were on their Egyptian exile.

And I worshipped with believers who  belong to a 2000 year old community of faith that is there because one minion’s plan didn’t work out, but God’s plan apparently did.

So, as God challenges you to greatness remember that it will require a risk, it will require a commitment and it will require a rigid commitment to flexibility.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Parting of Minions

How many of you have seen Star Wars?  No, not the last one.   I mean the first one “A New Hope”, not that we called it “A New Hope” we just called it Star Wars. 

And if you are interested it was released 40 years ago this weekend, May 25th 1977.  I don’t know where I was forty years ago last weekend or 40 years ago next weekend.  But I do know where I was forty years ago this weekend.  I was watching Star Wars a New Hope for the first of many times. 

And Star Wars is rife with Minions.  From those everybody loved, like C3PO and R2-D2 to those everybody hated, like the storm troopers and Jar Jar Binks.

For the most part we think of minions as loyal to a fault, that’s all part of being a minion.  But sometimes even minions come to a parting of ways.  For example.  (Video Clip of R2D2 and C3PO)

That’s right, sometimes Minions just walk away, but that doesn’t always spell the end of the journey.  In the case of C3PO it didn’t, they still had to make another dozen movies.

This is week four of our “Minions: Playing Second fiddle for God” series.  And we have discovered the importance of those who are willing to play second fiddle.  Remember it was Leonard Bernstein, who when asked what was the most difficult instrument to play, replied without hesitation:  “The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem; and if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

 In the scripture we read this morning we see a parting of Minions. 

Let’s go back to the story, this is the beginning of Paul’s second journey from Jerusalem through Asia to Europe.  And he is pulling his team together and casting the vision for the trip and we pick up the story in Acts 15:37-39  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.  Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.

Like in the Star Wars clip this parting was not a happy event, the bible says that their disagreement was so sharp that they separated, and that seemed to signal the end of their relationship.

But just like in Star Wars this wasn’t the end of the story.

Later, when Paul was writing his letter to Philemon he would refer to Mark as his co-worker and in his letter to Timothy we read 2 Timothy 4:11  Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.

Interesting.  So how do we get from A. to B.?   From the spot where Paul basically fired John Mark to the place where he refers to him as his co-worker and even asks for Mark’s assistance? 

The answer is found in another minion, Barnabas. And we going to dig a little deeper into that in just a few minutes.

We are told that John Mark or Mark as we often refer to him was Barnabas’ cousin, but we don’t know a whole lot more than that about Mark.

And we discover in Acts chapter 12 that Mark’s mother’s name was Mary and that the early church gathered in her home.  From that we’ve had speculation that it was her home that Jesus and the 12 met in for the Last Supper and that was where Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection, but it’s just speculation.

Early Church tradition has ascribed the second Gospel to Mark, but the author never identifies himself. 

And so, on that day, in Antioch, when Paul threw a hissy fit and fired Mark and alienated Barnabas, there was the potential for everything to get derailed.  

And there was the potential for Mark to have gone home pouting and saying “I’m done.”  For Barnabas to have given up on Paul and the church because his feelings got hurt.  And for Paul to have said “I’m not going to have anything else to do with those losers.”

And maybe we wouldn’t have blamed them.  But if that is what happened then Christianity today would look very different than it does.

Back in January I preached a series based on the fact that this year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  

And from our western view we see two branches of Christianity, the Catholic Church and the Protestant church.  And we think that before the reformation there was only the Catholic church. 

But 501 years ago, there wasn’t just one church there were basically three churches.

There was the Catholic church, and really it was Paul who was responsible for spreading the gospel into Europe.  Without Paul, there would have been no church in Rome.

But there was also the Eastern Orthodox Church. Today we see them primarily in the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. 

Many scholars would point to the birth place of the Orthodox church as Cyprus and the father of that church as Barnabas.  Remember what we read earlier?  Acts 15:39  Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus.

If there hadn’t been a disagreement, if Barnabas and Mark had of stayed with Paul I wonder. . .

But there wasn’t just the Catholic, or Western Church and the Orthodox or Eastern Church.

As many of you know on Tuesday I’m heading to Egypt to preach and work with the pastors of the Wesleyan Church in Egypt, a work that is about a hundred years old.

But in Egypt the Wesleyan church is just a baby church because the Coptic church dates itself back to AD 49, 19 years after the resurrection of Christ.  And they claim that the one who brought the good news to Egypt was none other than Mark himself, as a matter of fact his head is still believed to be in Alexandria. 

And while the ladies are thinking “That’s gross”, the guys are thinking, “That’s kind of cool.”

The Coptic church even point back to Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 19:19  In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and there will be a monument to the LORD at its border.

So, if there hadn’t been a disagreement, if Barnabas and Mark had of stayed with Paul, I wonder. . .

I think the reason that the entire story didn’t go south at the point was because of Barnabas, listen to how he is introduced back in Acts 4:36  For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.

Years ago I preached an entire message on Barnabas, I’m not going to do that today.

So what can we learn from our minions today?

A Good Start Doesn’t Guarantee a Good Ending  How often do we make predictions about people based on how they start the journey?  They just seem to have it all going for them, they were voted most likely to succeed and everybody knew they were going places, and then they didn’t.

You’ve watched enough of the Olympics to know that just because you are first out of the blocks doesn't mean that you will be first across the finish line.  As a matter of fact just because you are first out of the blocks doesn’t even mean you will make it to the finish line.

John Mark had a lot going for him.  While scripture doesn’t spell it out tradition fills in some of the blanks about Mark.

In Luke’s gospel we read, Luke 10:1  The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.  Tradition tells us that while Mark wasn’t a part of the 12, that is he wasn’t one of the Apostles, that he was a part of the 72. 

Then there is a weird little story in the book of Mark, not found anywhere else.  It happened right after Jesus had been arrested in the garden, let’s pick up the narrative in Mark 14:50-52  Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.  One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked.

The theory put forth from some commentators is that the young man was Mark, that the Last Supper had happened in the upper room over his mother’s home, this goes back to the reference in Acts 12.  So, after supper was over,  young Mark followed Jesus and the 12 to the garden, and the rest as they say is history. 

But it’s just a theory, but it makes sense.  In an embarrassing kind of way.

And apparently, Paul saw something in this young man to recruit him as an assistant on his journey and all seemed to work out until we read in Acts 13:13 Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.  

Luke doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t tell us why Mark left, we are just told that he left.  Some have said he was home sick, other have speculated that when he got to Paphos, which is in Turkey that he got cold feet, but we don’t know. 

And while Mark’s departure didn’t seem to bother Barnabas it really bugged Paul, enough that when Barnabas suggested taking Mark along for their next journey it drove a wedge into their friendship.

Paul saw Mark as a quitter, and I’m sure he would have agreed with Evangelist Billy Sunday who said Stopping at third adds no more to the score than striking out it doesn't matter how well you start if you fail to finish.”

Through the years, I’ve seen folks who have started out so well in their Christian faith only to falter and fall. 

Peter, who really should have had a little more grace than most on this subject wrote in 2 Peter 2:20-22  And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.  It would be better if they had never known the way to righteousness than to know it and then reject the command they were given to live a holy life.  They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.”  Hmmm, I wonder what he really thought?

Through the years my prayer has been, “Lord let me finish well.”

 But, the next thing we discover in this story is that Falling Doesn’t Guarantee Failure  In Paul’s mind if Mark had failed him once and disappointed him once, he was bound to do it again. 

But that isn’t grace.   Grace is illustrated better when Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys of the Kingdom, even after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. 

When you fall, and if you are a people and most of you look like you are people, you will fall at some point, you will have one of two options.  You can stay down or you can get up.  It’s that simple. 

When we were pastoring in Truro, late in the last century, I was rushing out the back door of the parsonage one morning and didn’t realize that there was frost on the steps.  My feet went in the air and down I came.  It’s like the guy who was asked “Did you miss the steps?”  “Nope hit every one of them.”

And as I was laying in the snow, with my wounded pride, hurting so bad my first thought seriously was “Maybe I can just stay here.” 

Maybe you've been there, physically or spiritually, you’ve fallen and you don’t think you can get up, or maybe more to the point, you don’t want to get up.

Your mother ever give you poems when you were growing up?  My mom was forever giving me poems she had found that she thought might help me at some point.  And those were the days before the internet and email.  One she gave me is probably familiar to some of you: 
Two frogs fell into a can of cream.
Or so I've heard it told;
The sides of the can were shiny and steep,
The cream was deep and cold.
“O, what's the use?” croaked No. 1.
“Tis fate; no help's around.
Goodbye, my friends! Goodbye sad world!”
And weeping still, he drowned.
But Number 2, of sterner stuff,
Dog paddled in surprise,
The while he wiped his creamy face, 
And dried his creamy eyes.
“I'll swim awhile at least,” he said -
Or so I've heard he said;
“It really wouldn't help the world,
If one more frog were dead.”
An hour or two he kicked and swam.
Not once he stopped to mutter.
But kicked and kicked and swam and kicked.
Then hopped out via butter.

When you fall, you can choose to stay down, or you can choose to get up.  But either way it will be your choice. 

We don’t know why Mark went back to Jerusalem.  At that point Paul gave up on Mark, but Barnabas didn’t give up on Mark and more importantly Mark didn’t give up on Mark.

It was Richard Nixon who said   “Defeat doesn’t finish a man—quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.”

When I was a teenager we had horses and our folks had us in riding lessons and the lesson that our instructor drilled into us over and over again was “Every time you fall, you will get back on a better rider.”  That was only partly true, you’d get back on a better rider if you learned from your fall.

So when you fall, not if you fall but when you fall, get up, brush yourself off and get back into the game.  Because the next thing we learn is found in  Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

There’s Always a Plan “B”

I don't think that it was necessarily God’s will that for there to be such a sharp disagreement that it damaged the relationship between these three men.  But God was able to use it. 

I think that when Paul cast the vision for the trip that they were all on board and that they thought the trip was a great idea and was in God’s will.  For them it was all Plan “A” but they all seemed to have a different idea of what Plan “A” might be. 

For Paul, it included Barnabas but not Mark.  For Barnabas and Mark they were convinced that they both belonged on the team. 

And maybe their Plan “A” wasn’t God’s Plan “A”.  Maybe God had an entirely different plan that was only revealed because of the disagreement. 

Because Mark and Barnabas didn’t go on the journey Paul recruited Timothy to join him and Timothy went on to become the pastor of the church of Ephesus and because of that we have the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy.

If you’ve been reading through the book of Acts you’ll notice that Luke has been writing in the third person narrative, that is he using the words “he” “they” and “them”

But there is a shift to the first person narrative in Acts 16:10  So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.  That is where Luke joined the team.  He’s no longer reporting what others have been telling him, now he’s writing as a participant in the adventure.

If Barnabas and Mark had still been on the trip would there have been room for Luke who would go on to write the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts?  I wonder

This is the last we see of Mark in the book of Acts but when the Apostle Peter closes his first letter he writes:  1 Peter 5:13  Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Most bible scholars feel that this was the same Mark who Paul fired, and that makes sense seeing that when Peter was rescued from prison in Acts chapter 12 the first place he goes is to the home of John Mark’s mother, Mary.

Because John Mark had his employment opportunities expanded did that allow him to become Peter’s assistant for a while instead of Paul’s?  The Gospel of Mark was the first gospel written and it is considered by most scholars to be Peter’s account, that Mark was simply writing down the stories that Peter told of his time with Jesus.

I wonder if the Gospel of Mark would have been written if Mark had of actually joined the journey with Paul?

When I was in Bible college someone told me that our view of life is sometimes like looking at the back of a tapestry or needlepoint.  That looking at it from the back it can be a little confusing, but the other side, the side that God sees makes perfect sense.

I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey.  But I want to assure you that falling isn’t failure and that failure isn’t final.

The decision that Mark made to walk away from Paul and Barnabas resulted in Paul refusing to offer Mark a second chance down the road.

Mark was hurt, Paul was angry and Barnabas was disappointed.  It had all the ingredients of a ministry train wreck, they didn’t have trains back then so a ministry ship wreck.  I’m sure all who were involved wondered if anything good could come out of what had happened.

And at the end of the story we had the Western Church, the Eastern Church and the Coptic Church, 1 and 2 Timothy and the Gospel of Mark.