Scripture: Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2 & 14
Preacher: Gerhard Venter
Summary: Jesus, who became fully human, lived and ministered under the power of the Holy Spirit, showing how important it is for us to be filled with the Spirit.
We’ve been in lockdown now since early March, with a slow opening up the economy and relaxing of the restrictions. While we were in the middle of it all, first quarantined for fourteen days and then severely restricted in terms of travel and shopping, it felt like an eternity of “sitting at home, doing nothing”. Not that I was doing nothing, but it felt weird to not being able to simply go somewhere, visit people, have church and so on.
At the end of May there is a kind-of lifting of the restrictions, as long as we still stay within the Slovak borders, of course. Joan and I have been going shopping a little bit more than a month ago, and I am struck at how life seems to get back to some form of normality, seen in how traffic patterns get back to jams, people shopping like crazy, visits to friends and family becoming more relaxed, and many other signs that we’re on the way to life as we used to know it.
And yet, something inside me is objecting! Humans easily forget, even despite the pictures we take, monuments we erects and entrances into our history books. I want to hold on to some of the lessons we learned during this time (and continue to learn). These include at least a more reflective life, taking time to enjoy quietness, learning to enjoy silence, getting away from the mad rush around us, appreciating regular contact with others by asking how they are coping (despite happening via Zoom, Whatsapp or social media) and many other things we should not forget as we get back into the routine of “normal” life. Maybe there should be a new normal for us as we “get out” of this time.
God knew that we easily forget and therefore instituted days and rituals or remembrance, such as Passover for the Jews and The Lord’s Supper for followers of Jesus Christ … all of this “lest we forget”. Make a note (physical or mental) of what you’ve learned to appreciate during this time, and make a point of remembering the lessons.
Passage: Matthew 12:1-8
Preacher: Gerhard Venter
Summary: One of the ways to refer to Jesus is “The Lord” Jesus. What is meant by this reference? How do we know Jesus is Lord? How do we respond to Jesus as Lord? A snapshot from Jesus’ ministry helps answer these questions.
We are currently in the middle of the strangest time I have ever experienced in my life on earth – and I’ve been around for a little while. A tiny virus, invisible to the naked eye, has shut down the world! The results of this (almost) world-wide lockdown have been varied, with both positive and negative responses. On the negative side we have seen more than the usual number of deaths around the world, people live in fear, we are limited by “social distancing”, and virtually every country’s economy is on its knees. We have yet to see the damage that has been done to businesses, income, wealth, travel and even health.
But there have also been, almost ironically, some positive spin-offs so far. The streets are quieter, very little rush-hour traffic, life is less rushed, we are forced to re-evaluate our priorities, families are spending more time together, there is much less pollution in cities, and a host of other things that may help us to hit the restart button to hopefully a “new normal” once this is all over.
I’ve been intrigued by the reaction to government measures around the world. There is, not unexpectedly, a whole range of responses, from simply accepting the lockdown to outrage that “our human right to freedom is being violated”. This made me think about the concept of freedom (read “human rights”), which certainly must be understood as coming with certain limitations. For example, my freedom does not allow me to take another person’s life. Our right to freedom is limited by our responsibility to behave in ethical and moral ways, respecting other people’s freedom too.
This is true in the spiritual realm as well. Recently we celebrated Easter, emphasizing that Jesus came to set us free – free from the guilt of sin, free from condemnation and free from legalism. But this kind of freedom is not a license to sin, as Paul reminds us we “were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh” (Galatians 5:13; see also 1 Peter 2:16). Christians are saved by God’s grace to experience the freedom that Christ brought and bought (“If the Son has set you free you shall be free indeed” John 8:36). But this very freedom is limited by grace, since our understanding of God’s grace compels us to stay away from the contamination of sin. Our freedom from the bondage of sin sets us free to love, serve and worship Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
May this freedom-robbing-virus-time help us to fall more deeply in love with Jesus!
I have enjoyed doing the short series of four sermons on the life of Hannah, which I called Life with Hannah, based on 1 Samuel 1 & 2. There are many lessons to learn from her story and experience and I don’t want to repeat the sermon series here! The one lesson I would like to focus on is how Hannah gave up much, but gained so much more. Hannah was willing to give up her precious son, Samuel, but gained so much more from it, not least the fact that this son became a major instrument for change in God’s plan for Israel.
As I reflect on the more than five years of ministry in Bratislava at our church, I am full of gratitude to the Lord and his people for allowing me this privilege. Being involved in the lives of (mostly) internationals have some real benefits, such as rubbing shoulders with and learning from other cultures, discovering family I didn’t know I had! Our church is a true “family away from home”.
Most of us would feel that we have gained much from being in Bratislava, meeting different people, being exposed to a “world out there” we didn’t know before. All of the interactions, people from other parts of the world, different food tastes, opportunities to travel to parts of the world I have only heard of – all of these are wonderful “gains”, privileges and gifts received from the Lord and his people.
But it is also true to say that these “gains” have come at the cost of “giving” – giving up what is familiar to us. For most of us, even those who left home elsewhere in Slovakia, it is a big sacrifice leaving what is familiar to us (language, home, culture, food, family) in exchange for being enriched by a different country, world, culture and foreigners.
The great benefit of belonging to a church like ours is that we can continue to worship the Lord, seek fellowship with other Christians and belong to our “family away from home”. Thank you for being part of this family and for being our family!
The year 2020 has arrived! A New Year is always an opportunity for us to reflect on what the Lord has done for us in the past year, but also to look at where He may be leading us in the future. As we look back on the year 2019 there is much that our church can be grateful for. I can think of at least the following highlight, and it’s not a complete list.
As we enter this New Year, may the Lord help us as we worship Him, fellowship with one another, being “family away from home” for many, and seek to reach more people for Him in our city and beyond. Let us attempt to do much more for the Lord in this year. May you have a blessed 2020!
The Christmas story is not complete without reading about, remembering, portraying (often by children in plays) or simply marveling at the way God brought his Son into the world through a young woman from Nazareth named Mary. In some church traditions this has captured the imagination so much that there is more than simply respect, but some form of worship of Mary as the mother of Jesus, ascribing to her a kind-of mediatory role to have access to Jesus. Although in the church tradition that we represent we avoid doing so, it is worth sparing a moment to remember Mary’s role in God’s provision of salvation for sinners.
Despite the fact that many suggestions, traditions and stories of legendary value arose around Mary, we don’t know anything beyond what the Bible mentions about her. But let’s think about what we do know.
She was young, born and raised in a peasant’s family – not the kind of family of special standing in the 1st Century society. She lived in a male-dominated society – not many women in that world would make it into prominence or history books. She was a simple believer in God, willing to receive a message from God, committing to something she had no idea what she was letting herself in for. Her dreams of a “normal” life of getting engaged, marrying her future husband, living in her village, and raising a “normal” family … all of these were rudely interrupted by God, maybe even shattered by what she heard and (initially) experienced.
Yet, with absolute blind faith in the God whom she served from childhood, she put her trust and her future into His hands by simply saying “I am the servantof the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The Christmas story requires more than remembering or retelling the birth of Jesus. It demands our adoration, worship and obedience to the One who was willing to be born as a human to identify with us, and to pay the penalty for our sins in order to offer us forgiveness. Mary sets an example of someone who was willing to allow God to interrupt her normal life in order to receive life as only God can give it – life to the full, abundant, joyful, meaningful, eternal.
If God chose Mary to be the mother of His Son born as a human, then God can choose us for any role He plans for us to have. And if Mary could say “yes” to God, then surely we can also commit to be available to serve the Almighty God who gave his only Son to bring us forgiveness. Let us therefore not only celebrate Christmas with trees, lights and gifts, but with obedience and worship!