A message from the Superintendent

Precious in the sight of the Lord

Sunday 14 June 2020

Psalm 116:1 – 19 (ESVUK)

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.  The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.  Then I called on the name of the Lord:

“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”  Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.  The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.  Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.  For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”  What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.  You have loosed my bonds.  I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.  Praise the Lord!

 

 

Romans 5:1 – 8 (ESVUK)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

 

Matthew 9:35 – 10:23 (ESVUK)

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”  And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.  The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the labourer deserves his food.  And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart.

As you enter the house, greet it.  And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.  Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.  “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.  When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Now thank we all our God

(Hymns & Psalms 566, Singing the Faith 81)

 

Now thank we all our God,

With heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done,

In whom his world rejoices;

Who from our mothers' arms

Has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

 

O may this bounteous God

Through all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts

And blessèd peace to cheer us;

And keep us in his grace,

And guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills

In this world and the next.

 

All praise and thanks to God

The Father now be given,

The Son, and him who reigns

With them in highest heaven,

The one eternal God,

Whom earth and heaven adore,

For thus it was, is now,

And shall be evermore.

 

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649)

Greetings and peace to you in the beautiful name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I have noticed of late how often the words ‘in reality’ are being used.  Almost as much as that beloved term the ‘new normal’.  ‘In reality’ people say and we may think, what reality do they mean?  Is it what is real to them and therefore must be the same reality to us?  Is it not the case that our own experiences and our own perspectives can lead to a kaleidoscope of realities?  We may all see common elements, but at the personal level my reality can be very different from anyone else’s.

 

As we look out across the world, and for many of us we don’t have to look too far, we see the reality of sacrifice that Covid-19 has brought to individuals, family and friendship groups, communities and countries.  Depending how close you are to these events the sacrifice can be in the extreme.  Sacrificial love has been very evident in the devotion, dedication and for many the ultimate cost of caring for one another.  We see the very best in people, in giving everything to save another human life.  Such amazing love!  Yet Paul shows us another love, the love of God for us all:

‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

 

Some may not name or label it as sin, but we would probably all admit to having got things wrong and having made mistakes in our lives.  This matters as our sins have an effect on our lives and those around us.  The astonishing thing about God’s saving grace is that He knows this and did the only thing He could do in order to redeem us and bring us back into a relationship with Him.  In the Cross of Jesus Christ we see the reality of both the justice and the love or mercy of God. 

‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

‘For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.’ (Romans 5:6)

 

However we view ourselves; at whatever point we find ourselves in, now is the time; today is the time to respond to God’s love.  Our sins are paid for and our lives are redeemed.  We put our hope and trust in God’s love for us, poured out into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

Paul knew what it was like to go through difficult days, but on the basis of his faith in the God who loved him and had already saved him, he could endure the present by looking steadily into the future, assured of God’s glory and grace.  This was to such an extent that Paul could declare:

‘More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,’ (Romans 5:3-4)

 

Difficulties are there and challenges exist but our hope is in the glory of God and in this we can rejoice.  Grace and peace anoints us, they rest on us through the faith we have in God’s love revealed in Jesus.  And we can know that we are justified by faith and that the price for our sin has been paid for us. There is nothing owing on our account for the wrong things we have done or said.  It’s amazing.

‘But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

 

Can we claim this prize?  Can we believe in this truth?  Can we trust in the constant reality of God’s love?  It makes all the difference if we can; all the difference in the world and to the world.  Let this be the foundation to our lives of faith, trusting in God’s love for us as we seek to serve Him.

 

Last week, Trinity Sunday, we considered the end of Matthew’s Gospel and the Great Commission Jesus gave to the Eleven disciples to go beyond the confines of their home and familiar surroundings and to go international in order to reach the world with the good news:

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)

 

Yet today, as we retrace the journey in Matthew’s Gospel we find in Chapter 9 the Palestinian or regional equivalent to the Great Commission.  Actually it is more specific than this.  It is a much more local destination, the remote district of Galilee, to which the Twelve are sent.  Galilee was surrounded on all sides by Gentile or non-Jewish nations and to the south by the very separate region of Samaria.  Matthew chapter 9 gives a blistering account of the power and authority through which Jesus fulfils His mission.  The results are for all to see, healings and teaching abound as the good news or gospel is proclaimed.  Yet in spite of how amazing and effective Jesus’ ministry was, He looked to extend the reach of His message to more and more people.  To do this Jesus calls and commissions the Twelve disciples who would be His special representatives or apostles.  He gathered them together and commanded them to go and do. Calling them together to instruct and send out must have been the pre-electronic equivalent to MS Teams, but in this case it was the Messiah Saviour Team being launched.

 

On what authority was Jesus instructing and directing His team of twelve? As Jesus would later say in His Great Commission, it was on account of His authority over all creation – heaven and earth that He was sending them:

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ (Matthew 28:18)

 

He had ultimate authority over heaven and earth. That covers all that has ever been created.  And on this earlier occasion Jesus tells them that He is giving them authority over all afflictions of body, mind and spirit:

‘[Jesus] called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.’ (Matthew 10:1)

 

He then commands them to go throughout the region of Galilee but not to the surrounding areas.

‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,’ (Matthew 10:5)

 

I wonder what we think of Jesus’ command or instruction to the Twelve?  With today’s 21st century eyes would people be critical of Jesus for being non-inclusive and extremely narrow in spreading the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand?  However I do not believe Jesus is being exclusively Jewish in His outlook and attitude.  Rather this is the continuing unfurling and unfolding of God’s plan for redeeming all people in all places and at all times.  This was Jesus’ strategy!  It was one of expansive evangelism beginning with Jesus’ own ministry and mission that was going to extend to more places than Jesus, the Good Shepherd, could reach on His own:

‘but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’’ (Matthew 10:6-7)

 

The kingdom of heaven is at hand because Jesus has come and through His holy name healing and wholeness are found:

‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.’ (Matthew 10:8a)

 

The disciples are to be content with their lot as they undertake this mission.  They are to expect to receive support and care wherever they are in order to meet their needs.  ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is the request of daily prayer for daily living.  They are to offer peace in Jesus Christ’s name to the homes they seek to bless.  It is a caution to us to realise that Jesus understood not everyone would welcome the good news that the disciples brought in His name.  We may gravely appreciate this truth, but determinedly we seek to continue the work God, in Christ, has called us to do in our day.  We seek to do our best until Christ calls or comes.

 

Jesus was aware too of the reception His disciples would receive from some quarters on account of bearing His name, that is, the later name or title of Christian.  It was not going to be easy.  There would be opposition even from within the disciples’ own families.  And maybe it is here we too find it hardest to express our love for Christ, to those we are closest to and whom we love the most.  The imagery Jesus gives is quite extreme, maybe even frightening to the disciples.  And as for the rest of those the disciples will come in contact with, He paints no rosy picture of apostolic bliss, quite the opposite in fact: delivered up to the authorities, persecuted, flogged and even put to death.  Yet comfort is offered in the promised presence and prompting of the Holy Spirit:

‘When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’ (Matthew 10:19-20)

 

The cost of discipleship is plainly, even vividly stated by Jesus.  Flee if you have to because it will be a struggle there is no denying that fact.  Jesus encourages them to keep going, for the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, will come in glory before the end.  To the children of the living and loving God, Jesus describes the reality they will face in serving Him:

‘Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves’, (Matthew 10:16a)

 

In the midst of such a pack of wolves what can we do?  Well here’s a word from God for us today!

‘so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’  (Matthew 10:16b)

 

It is a pity the world is like it is and we have to be as Jesus tells us to be, wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  We can only do this on the assurance that our faith brings to our comfort and eternal peace.  Paul spoke of the sufferings he knew the saints must endure and in spite of all we have to face, Jesus speaks to the reality of Christian experience, but also promises:

‘and you will be hated by all for my name's sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’ (Matthew 10:22) 

 

The writer of Psalm 116 found he was saved from death and, having shared in God’s deliverance, responded by giving thanks before the people of God in worship.  Let us claim the assurances of this psalm for our lives today, in spite of all we may be going through and enduring:

‘I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.’ (Psalm 116:1-2)

 

The writer of Psalm 116 found himself in a difficult situation – perhaps a new reality for him, perhaps one of suffering.  Yet he was delivered and saved not by personal effort and intelligence but on the basis of the attributes of God.  And it is quite a list: gracious, righteous, merciful, preserving, saving, bounteous.  As Martin Rinkart wrote:

‘O may this bounteous God

Through all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts

And blessèd peace to cheer us;

And keep us in his grace,

And guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills

In this world and the next.’

 

Living a life of faith as a Christian can be a real test and in our weariness and trouble we can experience times of doubt.  However our faith isn’t reliant on good days and times of ease.  On the contrary, it is deepened through difficulties and distress as we keep looking to God our Saviour:

‘I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”;’ (Psalm 116:10)

 

‘I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.’ (Psalm 116:13-14)

‘I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,’ (Psalm 116:17-18)

 

You will notice the repeating pairs of almost identical words in these verses highlighting the importance of this. The psalm exhorts us to praise the Lord in all our days.  Even in the extremes of life and what could be more extreme than our death, God’s word speaks into our deepest need that:

‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’ (Psalm 116:15)

 

How many of us will be affected by grief before this pandemic is past?  Amid the sacrifices of many may we look to the sacrifice of God in Christ.  Remembering that living and dying, we are precious to of our loving God as we seek to serve Him and offer our sacrifice of praise.  ‘Hallelujah! – Praise the Lord!’ cries the psalm writer; ‘Praise the Lord!’ cries the congregation in the house of the Lord; ‘Praise the Lord!’ cries the people of God in all times and in all places.

 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Truro Methodist Circuit, Cornwall    |   01872 262907