Starting with the Basics: Be Like Solomon, Jesus and Mary

I was hoping to be preaching for the home crowd at St Peter’s Lutheran in Cochrane today.

For St Peter’s Lutheran Church

Christmas 2


1 Kings 3:4-15
Ephesians 3:1-12
Luke 2:40-52

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness
to see the radiance of your glory. Amen.

Happy New Year to my St Peter’s family! It is lovely to be with you this morning from across the pond. Would have been lovelier if I had actually been able to be with you in person as I had hoped up until a few weeks ago!

None of us can be too certain about what 2021 holds – we are only three days in after all. On New Year’s Day 2020 I posted this quote from Beth Moore on Facebook: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

This is still very much true as we head into 2021. Many of us have no idea what is coming. I have decided to only use a pencil when putting things on the calendar! We can be sure that God will be faithful, He is going to love us, He will be our light and He will keep his word. Amen!

So where do we start at the beginning of this new and uncertain year? Let’s start with the basics. Many people have learned a lot over the past year, we have learned new ways of doing things, new technology, what we can and can’t live without. We might have learned where our limits are – so many people have been pushed right to the edge of theirs. Some people have never been busier in their lives, others have never been so bored. Some have discovered new activities and hobbies; others have barely made it through each live long day. Some haven’t made it at all.

We need to do something with all this learning. There are a few golden threads running through the readings this morning and we will pull on a few of them. Wisdom is the overarching theme; where and how do we get it? I suggest this morning that we Be like Solomon, Be like Jesus and Be like Mary.

Be like Solomon! Thank you to Pastor Paul for his excellent summary of 1 Kings from his reading. Wisdom comes through asking. As one favourite preacher of mine puts it ‘Go to the throne before you go to the phone. Or Facebook, Twitter, Insta, etc. Much bad advice abounds! I fondly remember a young homeless man when I lived in London. He would sit on the floor in the Tube station on a pile of old sleeping bags. He held up a cardboard sign that said ‘£1 for bad advice’. It was funny and he made some good money, but it was undeniably sad too. Bad advice abounds.

Solomon had it all, he came from a good family, he was likely attractive, rich, intelligent, established a kingdom. Yet, he was smart enough to know what he was lacking. Solomon had been given immense responsibility and power, well beyond his great ability. Solomon wanted an understanding mind to govern his people. Now you might be tempted to think, ‘Oh, if only our politicians had God-given, understanding minds!’ Before you go about calling the kettle black – honestly – how much God-given understanding do you currently have?

In asking for an understanding mind, God blessed Solomon with much more. Solomon sought God, he didn’t go to his advisors, or military leaders. He went to the source of all knowledge and understanding. Solomon went to the throne before he went to the phone.

I had a call from a woman recently who wanted to meet up to talk, let’s called her Sarah. Over the last three years, Sarah has made some unwise life decisions based on some poor advice she was given. The source of the poor advice is her husband. Sarah has a Christian faith and attends a local church when she can. At the end of our first session, I asked her, if at any point she had invited God into her situation? The look on her face spoke volumes. She hadn’t. Sarah had closed this particular compartment of her life to God and was paying a price for that. We ended that first session by praying that she would ask God into her situation, seek his wisdom for the way forward. Her situation is not resolved and likely won’t be for a long-time, but her outlook is different, she has included God, and this is making a difference.

Seek God’s wisdom first, invite him into your situations where you need wisdom. Not the wisdom of the world or heaven help us, social media or even the news. Even the people we love the most and should be the closest can give bad advice. Use God’s wisdom to interpret these other things. Wisdom plays the long game, we build it up, it is collected and gathered along the journey. If you read further on into 1 Kings, Solomon starts well but he goes off course – it would be remiss of me not to tell you that. Had Solomon continued to seek God’s wisdom, the outcome may have been different.

Be like Solomon and keep asking for wisdom, for a discerning mind and heart for whatever tasks lie ahead for you this year.

Be like Jesus in the Temple! This is one of the only stories of Jesus’ childhood in the New Testament. Very little is known other than the flight to Egypt in Matthew and his Presentation in the Temple also in Luke. It is often thought that Mary was one of Luke’s sources for his gospel which makes sense given the detail of this story. As only a mother could tell!

Jesus is found in the temple, sitting and listening and then asked questions. Please notice the order in which Jesus did these things.
He sat, he listened, he asked questions.

We live in a world of noise, so much information comes at us all the time. The platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, Tik Tok, Snap Chat, What’s App, etc give everyone an opportunity to have a voice. Fair enough, we have the right to free speech. Let’s not confuse free speech with cheap speech. Rights come with responsibilities. Use your voice and your thumbs wisely. Even a small amount of time online highlights that so many people are incapable of either of these things. I hope that we have not lost the art of conversation and good disagreement permanently.

When was the last time you just sat and listened? Try it! It is good for the soul. New Year’s challenge – set a timer for 10 minutes once a day, every day this week. Sit down and invite God to speak to you. Listen for his voice. There is no magic, just a bit a discipline.

Be like Jesus at home with Mary & Joseph!

There has always been much debate over how much Jesus knew about himself. Jesus knew that day that he had to be in his Father’s house – as much as this answer confused Mary & Joseph. Jesus then went home to Nazareth and was obedient to them. As Elaine talked about in the children’s story, Jesus grew up and did things that would set him up for his later ministry.

I am not sure what your reaction is when you hear the word obedience or obey. I suspect it is not too popular. Especially in our current world situation with constantly changing rules and opinions. What and who are we to obey? Obey can have negative connotations for many people, especially if it was meant as a form of control or abuse: do as I say, not as I do.

I see obedience to God like the way I see an umbrella. I live in England and it rains a lot, year-round. A good umbrella is an essential tool of living over here. On a rainy day, when my umbrella is up, I stay dry, I can see where I am going as my head is held up, I can see the way ahead of me and walk with confidence.

Under the umbrella of obedience to God, I am protected, I have enough space to live freely within the limits of that umbrella, I don’t worry about getting wet or losing my way and I know that I am loved.

On the same rainy day, I can decide to not put the umbrella up or leave it at home. I will get wet, instinctively my head will drop to keep the rain off my face and out of my eyes. I will not fully see the way ahead. I am not protected from the rain or the wind as I have removed myself from the benefits of protection given by the umbrella.

If I decide to remove myself, either consciously or unconsciously, from the under the umbrella of obedience, I am no longer guaranteed God’s protection or blessing.

God has not moved, I have. My problem is that I don’t always want to stay under the umbrella! Even though I know it is better under it than outside of it. I used this analogy with Sarah who I mentioned earlier, and she very kindly gave me these umbrella socks for Christmas!

Are you operating under or outside the umbrella of obedience? Jesus’ obedience to his parents led to an ‘increase in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favour.’ Forget five minutes of Facebook fame or infamy in most cases, go for divine favour, human favour of the right kind.

Be like Jesus – sit, listen ask and obey.

Finally, Be like Mary! Mary is a great one for pondering and treasuring ‘all these things in her heart.’ Maybe for many 2021 will be a rebuilding year. Some things will have to be left behind and ‘going back to normal’ – whatever that means – might not happen the way we want it to or ever. Treasure what is good, leave out the rubbish that clutters up our lives – whether that is physical, emotional or mental clutter. Pondering means thinking, thinking deeply. It is a form of discipline – think and listening before we speak. Not everything we think needs to go directly from our brains to our tongues and thumbs. Don’t bypass the heart! We are going to need more heart in 2021, more wisdom, more love, more understanding, more gentleness for ourselves and each other. Ponder before you pontificate!

I will end as I began: ‘We have no idea what the coming year holds but this I can promise you based on the unsurpassed authority of Scripture: our God’s going to be faithful. He’s going to be good. He’s going to love us and be our light in the darkness. He’s going to keep His word. He cannot do otherwise.’

My prayer is that we will be like Solomon and seek God’s wisdom first; go the throne before we go to the phone.

Be like Jesus and sit, listen and then ask questions – in that order.

Be like Jesus and operate under the umbrella of obedience to God, stay dry and keep our heads up!

Be like Mary, ponder and treasure that which is good and let go of the clutter that distracts. His words are sweeter than honey.

Happy New Year! Go well and wisely into this year.

Trinity 12: Summer Eating: Jesus, The Bread of Life

This morning’s offering on 1 Kings, Ephesians 5 and John 6. Jesus is still banging on about being the bread of life!

Trinity 12

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

This is Sunday four of five in John 6! I re-read the whole thing this morning just to remind myself of the wider significance of this rather long and dense chapter. It seems to repeat on itself with all the talk of bread and wine – eating and drinking the living body and blood of Jesus.

The golden thread that runs through this chapter are the words very truly and believe. They are used a lot! Jesus is telling us – very truly to trust in Him.
How many of you this morning – before you sat down in a pew or chair asked, ‘can I trust this pew or chair not to collapse under my body weight?’ Or when you went to turn on the bathroom tap this morning – wondered if you could trust the water that was coming out of it?

I am not sure how you go come to trust in people or things – let alone God. What is your process? I am naturally and rather naively a trusting person. I tend to trust people from the start – it doesn’t take much to win my trust – I will take what I see at face value.

I trust the water that comes out of the tap will be perfectly fine to drink; I did think about the engineering and craftsmanship of the pews and chairs and trusted in them – but only asked myself this because I knew that I would be asking you!

However – you break my trust, let me down, mess around with my trusting nature and it’s gone and good luck trying to get it back. I will forgive you – but it is unlikely I will trust you again.

Some of you might be more suspicious of others – a bit slower to trust. You need some proof before you will trust someone or something. Your trust needs to be earned and once it is – it is to be valued and hung on to.

We all have our own ways for coming to trust things and people. Maybe some of us trust the wrong things or don’t consider the things we trust until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Maybe some of us set the bar so high that we trust almost nothing and no one.

The theme for this morning is to look at the implications of putting our trust in Jesus, the bread of life. I have just had us think about how we trust in people and things. It is likely that these processes can and will influence how we trust Jesus.

If you are a trust-first-ask-questions-type like me – you might find it easy to trust Jesus. But what about when it looks like that trust has been broken – something that we were trusting him for doesn’t come through the way we thought it would or wanted it to?

If you are a slow-truster – what proof do you need to be satisfied that Jesus is trustworthy?

Jesus wants us to trust him – for anything and everything, all the time and forever and He is willing to do anything for us to do that.

There could be a lot of ways to get us to do that – but Jesus announces that people need to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Probably not the tactic I would have used!

Jesus intended to shock his audience – this reference to flesh and blood as food would have been particularly startling to the Jewish culture Jesus was speaking into. Jesus’ eating habits were causing some comment at the time as well – he was seen as a glutton and drunkard who dined in bad company.

The Jewish people were particularly sensitive to food issues – a glance in the OT shows us the vast number of rituals and taboos surrounding food preparation and what could and couldn’t be eaten.

God has always used food – the apple in the story of creation, manna and quail in desert, the Passover meal of lamb and unleavened bread. In the NT – the stories of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish is told 6 times in the 4 Gospels. Jesus eating the grain on the Sabbath. The Last Supper is well – about supper. All these stories have food at the heart of them.

‘You are what you eat,’ so the saying goes. Our modern, Western culture also has some issues with food. We know that not all food is good for us, we are anxious about additives, allergies, is it organic? Genetically modified? Were the chickens that laid the eggs clucking merrily in a free-range field? Is it Gluten free? Dairy free? Vegetarian? Vegan? Did it start life too near a motorway or was it flown in from half-way around the world? We spend a lot of time worrying where our next meal is coming from!

What we eat is important – no doubt about it. What we eat also shows – don’t go staring at each other or make judgments – but what we eat or don’t eat shows up in our physical appearance.
If we are feeding on the body and blood of Jesus there should be some evidence for it in our lives – how we behave in certain situations, our moral code should be aligned with his, how we treat people.

What then are the implications for feeding on the body and blood of Jesus? The Ephesians reading gives us 3 ways that trusting in and feeding on Jesus will benefit our lives.

Firstly: Wisdom – this is a whole other sermon on its own. How do you think about wisdom? It is different from knowledge – which is facts and figures – the things we get from education. Wisdom is deeper than that – it is a knowing that comes from the whole of an experience, wisdom is common sense that isn’t so common; the ability to make smart decisions.

Ephesians tells us that we are to live not as unwise but as wise people (v15) and this means being careful in how we live. I don’t know about you – but I have never prayed a pray to the effect ‘Dear Lord, I would like to do more stupid things – please help me do this. Amen.’

Nor have I ever been in a church service with an altar call or words of knowledge like ‘I just get a sense that someone here has been foolish this week – you might have said or thought or done something dumb. Would you come to the front please so we can lay hands on and pray for you so we can release you from your stupidity?’

It’s embarrassing – especially when it seems to come so naturally! We don’t like to admit to the dumb things we do or say. I need forgiveness from God and from the victims of my stupidity.

In the 2 Kings reading we have the famous story of Solomon who has been newly installed as king after the death of his father David. Solomon is standing before the Lord and all the assembly of Israel and could have asked for anything – more riches, power, long-life, land, possession – whatever he wanted. But Solomon asked for wisdom – the one thing he knew he needed to do the job he had been called to do.

You don’t need to be smart to ask for wisdom. We all face situations where we need more wisdom than what we currently have to make the right or best decision. Pray for it! It greatly pleased God that Solomon prayed – so much so that He granted him the wisdom and much more.

Secondly – by trusting Jesus we can better understanding God’s will for our lives (Eph v. 17). I don’t think that we will fully every understand what we are doing on earth apart from God’s plans and purposes.

If we want to know what we are supposed to do – then we need to be close to Jesus, feeding and following him. Notice that again there is a second plea avoid foolishness. ‘So do not be foolish, v 17 starts, but understand what the will of the Lord is. To avoid foolishness and understand God’s will for our lives – we need wisdom. Wisdom comes from trust. Trust comes from feeding on the body and blood of Jesus.

How are you doing on working out God’s will? Not always easy but try to see it as a journey. Maybe a slow one at times – but it is not a race. But know that God loves you and has a will for your life. He is not hiding it or keeping it from you – but it is something that needs to be worked out.

Thirdly – trusting in Jesus helps us in being thankful and filled with the Spirit. Ephesians v 20 ‘always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Always and everything.

I lead a Bible study last summer that included a ‘thankfulness exercise’ where we divided our current age by 4. Then in each quarter of our lives, we had to write down the things/events/people that we were thankful for. It was quite an enlightening exercise. I had much more to be thankful for as I thought through each of my quarters. This might be helpful if you find yourself struggling to be thankful to God.

Sometimes it is hard to be thankful when we are facing difficulties and there doesn’t seem to be much to say thanks for. But don’t forget the small things! Being thankful for the small things can only help us to be thankful for the big things. It is also creates consistency in us.

Don’t let the troubles in the present wipe your memory of the good things in the past. God is faithful and has done things we should all be thankful for – regardless of our current situation. He can be trusted.

If we live in the Spirit, we will never be over or under fed. The body and blood of Jesus will always satisfy, every need we can ever have. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. What the world offers us is not real food as it will not satisfy – however much we eat.

We need wisdom to understand that. There is no life in us otherwise – back to John 6:51: I am the living bread that came down from heaven and for this we can be thankful.

In a nutshell – Jesus is asking us this morning if we trust Him. Very truly he is telling us over and over again in John 6 that He is the bread of life, we are to believe in the one sent from God who gives us the bread of heaven. Himself.

What does trusting in Jesus mean for us? It effects the way we live in three ways: wisdom – by living wisely and asking for God’s wisdom in all our circumstances we can work out His purposes for our lives. We all need wisdom and the truest wisdom we can ever get comes from God.
So do not be foolish! Understanding God’s will for our lives helps us to live better and on purpose. What are we doing here? Again – without understanding God’s purpose we can fall into all sorts of folly and foolishness.

Finally, being thankful and giving thanks. When we give thanks to God we are building trust in Him that he will provide all that we need. In the big and the small stuff. We generally thank people if we have enjoyed a meal together – Jesus has given us the ultimate meal – one that we will all share in very shortly. We come together as His family to share in the meal so let us be trusting, wise, understanding and thankful.