30 June 2019 – Talk by Clive Atkinson

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Over the last number of Sundays, we’ve looked at the character of Jacob in the Old Testament and tonight we’ll complete the series of this colourful character. You may remember that Jacob has been away from home 20 years. He left under a dark cloud to say the least . Estranged from his father and the bitter enmity of his older brother who had sworn to kill him and in the intervening 20 plus years he had moved in with his uncle. He had got married twice, he had many children and he had become very wealthy. But God had come to Jacob again and spoken to him. Jacob was to return home. Return home to his estranged father. Return home to his vengeful brother. And as he made his way home, getting closer and closer news came to him, that Esau, his older brother was coming out to meet him with 400 men. How was Jacob to interpret that? How would you have interpreted that? Well, of course Jacob interprets that quite negatively and he assumed that he is going to face a fight, he is going to be in a battle. And so he prepares for a fight. But the fight that he gets isn’t the one that he’s expecting. Because that night he’s on his own. He sent his wife and children across a river to the other side of the river, Jacob’s on his own. And we have this incredible story of Jacob wrestling with the Lord all night. This wasn’t the fight that he was expecting. He gets a fight, but it’s with God. And chapter 33, Genesis 33 is the story of the next morning. Jacob, you may remember is now wounded, he’s limping. God has wounded him in order to transform him. And Jacob wakes wounded and changed. And as he wakes, there’s Esau. Esau is coming, Esau is approaching. And so Jacob quickly puts his wives and his children behind him and he limps out to meet his brother after 20 years.

I want us to think this evening about this very, very special story and I want us to think it under maybe two, maybe three headings. Here’s the first one. This story helps us, explains to us how we ought to see the world. How we ought to see the world. Do we have any tennis players here this evening, any tennis players? Any golfers? Any golfers? No one. Okay, wonderful. I know we have one or two swimmers. I know nothing about tennis. I know a little bit about golf, but I do know that if you’re going to play a backhand, there’s no sense standing like this, that you actually have to position your body in such a way to play the backhand properly. I do know that if you want to hit a golf ball straight down the fairway, you’ve got to position your body in a particular way. You’ve got to have this food slightly out. You’ve got a little bit bending of the knees leaning slightly forward as you hit the ball. I never could hit the ball straight so maybe don’t take my advice this evening. But that body position has a consequence in terms of where that ball goes, whether it’s where you wanted to go or how straight. It goes.

God’s work in Jacob has changed Jacob’s posture towards the rest of the world. Jacob’s posture towards the rest of the world has changed. Jacob’s posture up to this moment has been one of conflict. One of wrestling, one of fighting, one of one-upmanship stealing a march, trying to get the upper hand. That’s been Jacob’s posture with the world. But that has now changed. So if you’ve got your booklets open, have a look at our Bible reading from Genesis 33 and I’m going to read from verse one. Jacob looked up and there was Esau coming with his 400 men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants and he put the female servants and their children in front Leaj and her children next and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. And he himself went on ahead.

What comes next? Verse three, he himself went on ahead. And what? Bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Now verse three is one of these verses that you could very, very easily just read and rush through. But I want you to remember just for a moment the words that Isaac ,Jacob’s father spoke to him 20 years earlier so listen to these words. So these are the words that Issac spoke to Jacob. Do you remember when Isaac was blessing ,Isaac thought it was Esau but in fact, it was Jacob. The words that Issac spoke over Jacob, listen to this. May nation serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be Lord over your brothers. And that’s got to include Esau and may the sons of your mother, i.e. Esau bow down to you. That’s Genesis 27. Now listen to the words that Isaac spoke over Esau. Do you remember how Esau came and discovered that Jacob had pinched his blessing? This is what Isaac says to Esau. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. Genesis 27 40.

I want you to listen to this passage again, if you’ve got look at verses three with me and we’re going to read further on. He himself – this is Jacob – went ahead and Jacob bowed down seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him, and they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. Who are these with you? He asked Jacob answered, listen to what Jacob says. They are the children God has graciously given your what? Servant. Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down next Leah and her children bowed down, last of all Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down. And Esau asks, what’s the meaning of all these herds and flocks? This is Jacob again to find favour in your eyes.

What my Lord. So Isaac had blessed Jacob with the words that the nations would bow down to him. But here is Jacob bowing down too. Isaac had told Esau that he would serve his brother. But here is Jacob calling himself servant before his brother and calling his brother. Lord. You see Jacob’s posture has changed? It’s no longer the posture of conflict. It’s no longer the posture of aggression. It’s no longer the posture of I’m going to beat you. I’m going to be first. I’m going to be ahead of you. The posture has changed and it’s the posture of grace. It’s the posture of grace.. You see, whenever we experience God’s grace in our lives, it leads to a deep change in us and it not only changes us, but actually it changes how we see other people.

Grace has changed Jacob, God’s grace towards Jacob. The fact that God has never given up on Jacob, the broken Jacob, the lying Jacob, the deceiving Jacob, God has just never given up on him. And finally that grace has changed Jacob and not only has it changed Jacob, but it’s changed the way he sees people. And it’s changed the way he sees Esau. He’s no longer a competitor. He serves no load. Esau is no longer an opponent no longer someone to be vying with. Esau has become Jacob’s eldest brother and Jacob has been fighting that all his life.

Jacob has come to a point by grace to see his brother for who he is, his eldest brother. There is a, there’s a project in the UK at the moment in some of United Kingdom’s prisons and it involves taking some prisoners and training them as Baristas. Do you know what a Barista is? So it’s a, it’s somebody who makes coffee in a cafe, a Barista. And so these prisoners are being trained as Baristas and then sent out into the community during the day, to act as coffee makers to make coffee and in local cafes. And do you know what this project’s called? I think it’s brilliant. They are called, it’s called redemption roasters.

And I, I love that. These prisoners are not lost causes these prisoners can be redeemed. You know what the word redeem means? It means set free, given a future, given a new beginning. See that is seeing the world differently, that is seeing the world through the eyes of grace. And I wonder, is there an Esau in your life that you need to see through the eyes of grace? Here’s a second thought from the passage, not only how we see the world, but how we live with others. Have a look at verse four. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him. This is Esau, Esau running to Jacob and embraced him. He threw his arms around his neck and kissed him and they wept.

And then if we move on to verse 10 Jacob said, to see your face is like seeing the face of God. Now that you have received me favorably. Now isn’t this a beautiful moment? Two brothers estranged for the last 20 years. They run to each other. Well Jacob can’t he’s got a limp, doesn’t he? Esau does the running. There’s embracing, there’s weeping. And Jacob says these incredible words looking at his brother Esau – to see your face is like seeing the face of God. After 20 years what a beautiful moment of reconciliation. Could we just pause for a moment and just think about that phrase – to see your face is like seeing the face of God. Now, have you ever used that word before when you’ve met somebody walking down the street in Château d’Oex or in the Coop to see your face is like seeing the face of God? It’s got to be a special moment, doesn’t it? It’s got to be a special moment. What’s in Jacob’s head when he says those words? Well, could we just back up maybe three or four hours.

Whose face has Jacob seen four hours ago? God’s face. He’s had this wrestling match all night and at the end of it he’s wounded and he’s transformed and he renames the place. Penniel, because I have seen the face of God. And what is it that, what did Jacob see as he looked into the face of God? He saw grace. He saw forgiveness. The God who loves him and will never let him go. And whenever he looks into the face of Esau, what does he see? He sees grace. He sees a brother whom he has wronged, stolen from, and yet had a brother who’s willing to forgive him. I find that really, really moving. I find that profound.

Reconciliation, the healing of a broken relationship is part and parcel of our DNA. The Gospel, which is at the heart of our faith is described in the New Testament in terms of reconciliation where God has run towards us to embrace us so that we would be reconciled to him. And whenever we think of the cross, we are one of the understandings of the cross is this idea of reconciliation, that Christ was dying in order, that I would be reconciled to God.

And that’s what it means to become a Christian, to become a Christian is to, is to be reconciled to God, to have that broken relationship healed. And not only do we see, not only do we see it at the cross, but that reconciliation that we’ve experienced with the father is meant to be a reconciliation that that’s worked out among us. That whenever there’s a broken relationship here, that the calling on our lives is one of being reconciled. Now that’s hard work. That’s hard work. It’s very easy to say the words, I forgive you or please forgive me, or I’m sorry. That’s the easy bit. It’s working that out day by day, Sunday by Sunday.

But not only is reconciliation something that we’re to practice in here, that that Ministry of reconciliation is something that we take out into the world with us, into, into our offices, into our neighborhoods, and into our families, into our marriages, into our friendships. We take that Ministry of peacemaking, that Ministry of bridge building. We take that into the world. And this is what we are. By default, we are peace makers. We are bridge builders. And is there Esau in your life with whom you need to be reconciled to? I found myself reflecting upon this passage and I found myself asking the question. When people look me in the face, when people see me face to face, what do they see? Jacob said to Esau. When I see you, it’s like seeing the face of God. So what, what do people see when they look at me? Grizzly, old, grumpy man irritable. A short fuse. Or do they seek grace? What do people see in your face whenever they look at you? Do they see the face of God?

And lastly, one last thought. Have we see the world, how we live with other people. And finally how we live for God. This is verses 16 to 20. This is the last, last couple of verses, and this is intriguing because we’ve had this really beautiful picture of reconciliation. And then Esau says to Jacob, you’re coming home, aren’t you? Not In so many words. And Jacob says, no. Sorry. He doesn’t say no. He doesn’t quite say no. Sorry. Can we just back up and started out again? Esau says to Jacob you’re coming with us. And Jacob says, listen, I’ve got a lot – my wife and kids. They’re here. It’s gonna take us ages to get there. We’ll come. But it will be slowly. And then Esau says, no, why don’t I leave some men with you? And Jacob says, no, we’re fine. We can look after ourselves. We’re great. Esau goes back to Sear. If you think of the Dead Sea. Sear Is across the Jordanian border here. Esau goes back there. What does Jacob do? Doesn’t follow him. Jacob goes somewhere else. He goes to a place called Shekem. Why does Jacob go to Shekem?

Well, if we go back into Genesis 18 we see that God makes the Covenant or renews The Covenant with Abraham where? Guess where? Shekem? Jacob goes to Shekem and what does he do? He buys a plot of land. Now what does that mean? If you were to buy a plot of land, what would that say? What statement are you making?

I’m staying. This is my home. And so Jacob goes back to the place of covenant and he says, this is where I live. This is my home. And what’s Jacob doing? Jaocob’s actually living the calling on his life. This is God’s calling on Jacob’s life that Jacob would be the next link in the chain of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. And Jacob could’ve gone back with Esau to Sear but he doesn’t. He’s actually living out the calling of God on his life. And so he has to go somewhere different. It’s a really fascinating little Gospel reading that we heard tonight that Dorothy read for us and Jesus in this room and he’s teaching and there’s people around them. And somebody comes to the door and says, Jesus, your mother’s outside. Now, if that was you and somebody came into the house and said, your mother’s outside, what would you do? You would get up and you would go outside. But what does Jesus do? He looks around the room at his disciples and he says, do you see these people? Here are my brothers and sisters and mothers. The calling on Jesus’ life was meaning the creation of a new family that actually meant that he prioritized that family above his blood family. Jesus does it twice actually in the gospels. And here we have Jacob prioritizing God’s call in his life above his brother’s call on his life.

Now that doesn’t happen all the time, but sometimes the calling on your life will take you a way from close family, close friends and sometimes that means Jesus first. I do remember that time when Yvonne and I sat down with my mum and dad. This is now 18 years ago. Sat down with my mom and dad. My mum had been diagnosed with cancer again and we had been invited to come here and we weren’t sure what to do. So we went and we talked to them and my mom and dad said to me, you need to go where God has called you.

And I don’t think, I don’t think if they had said that, that we would have come. They understood that there are moments when the call of the Lord on your life takes precedence over the call, perhaps of family close friends on your life. And so we leave Jacob. We’re going to move. Genesis is going to move away from Jacob and the spotlight now is going to be on Joseph. We’re going to find ourselves into Egypt. 400 years later we’ll see Moses leading them out. But this is the last moment where Jacobs takes center stage. Jacob, who in his lifetime had discovered the God of grace, the God who sees him and comes alongside him, the God in whom Jacob would discover a true source of love and value, a God who would relentlessly stick with them and not give up a god whose grace would change him and call him. The thing is, is that the god of Jacob, is the same God of today. The God who covented himself to Jacob is the same God who has covenanted himself to you. That God of grace who will stick with you through thick and thin. He’ll stick with you whenever you are resisting him and wrestling him, a God who will stick with you and just pour out his grace upon you and who will change you, transform you into the woman into the man that he wants you to be.

16 June 2019 – Talk by Clive Atkinson

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It’s over 20 years since Jacob had run away from home. We’ve been looking at the story of Jacob over the past three or four weeks. Jacob had bought, under very dodgy circumstances, his brother’s birthright. He then went on to steal his brother’s blessing. And what was the result of all of that? Well, very simply, his brother, Esau swore to kill him. And so Jacob had run for his life and had made his way to his uncle Leban and there he had married Rachel and Leah and had a large family, 11 sons and a daughter. Jacob was prospering.

20 years on, God comes to Jacob and says to him, Jacob, it’s time to go home. It’s time to return home. It’s time to go back to Esau. And I don’t know how you would’ve reacted if you would have received that message from the Lord, but I can imagine Jacob would have been filled with some anxiety. Go back to the brother that has vowed to kill you. Jacob obeys though, and he begins the journey back. It’s a journey of about 500 kilometers. And as he’s traveling, news comes to him that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men.

Is Esau coming to throw a party? Is this a welcoming committee? I think Jacob concludes that Esau is coming out to fulfil his vow to kill him. And in Chapter 32 , 22 to 32, the reading that Tom brought us, this passage describes the night before Jacob meets Esau. Do you remember how you felt the night before your exams? Do you remember how you felt the night before you went to the dentist to have two teeth out? The night before you got married? The night before? We all know what that’s like. And so here is Jacob the night before he faces Esau. And could you just look at the passage with me? I’ve just noticed, how this is described for us. Verse 22. That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his 11 sons and crossed the ford of the Jabuk. And after he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. Verse 24. So Jacob was left alone. Do you picture it? Jacob is left completely alone. All of his possessions, all of his possessions have gone across the river, his wives, his children, everything has gone across the river. He’s on his own. He’s stripped bare.

And it’s pitch black. It’s dark, it’s night.

And out of the darkness Jacob is grabbed. He’s grabbed by two hands. Is it a contract killing? Has Esau contracted somebody to knock him off? Whatever it is, Jacob fights back. And we have as a result of that, this incredible story of Jacob wrestling – initially we’re told with a man – for the whole night. Pitch black so he can’t see, can’t see his face all he’s wrestling with is his physical body. We have this amazing story of Jacob wrestling. It’s mysterious, isn’t it? It’s intriguing. It’s slightly troubling as well. And as we read into the passage a little bit later on, we discovered this is not a contract killing. This is not an assassin. That in fact Jacob is wrestling with God. God has come. And Jacob ends up wrestling with him. Now, that shouldn’t surprise us because in the earlier chapters of Genesis, we already see how God comes in physical form. So Adam and Eve in the garden. God walking with Adam and Eve in the garden. Hagar, Abraham and Sarah. God comes on numerous occasions in the book of Genesis to his people in physical form. And so perhaps Jacob had those stories in his mind and perhaps as this wrestling match goes on, the penny begins to drop. This is no mere man. Perhaps I’m actually wrestling with God. And the story comes to a climax where Jacob is wounded, he’s wounded by God. And the story then shifts. There’s a transition from this is a wrestling match to Jacob refusing to let go. There’s this transition in the story, and we’ll think about that in a moment’s time. Where this transition from Jacob defending himself, resisting God, trying to get caught away from him to this point where Jacob is saying, I’m not letting go. That’s a very important transition in the story.

That’s why I want us to think about two things tonight. I want us to think about reshaping and renaming. Because at the end of this story, Jacob, gets a new name. So reshaping and renaming. And then the second thing I want us to think about this evening, is blessed to be a blessing. Jacob gets blessed, but it’s not just for him. So I want to think about those two things briefly today. Because what God is doing in Jacob’s life, I want to suggest you tonight, God is doing in all of our lives. What God is doing in Jacob’s life in Genesis 32 he’s doing in all of our lives. So here’s the first thought, reshaped and renamed. If you have a look at a verse 24 in the English, we don’t quite, we don’t quite get this in the English. It says, so Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him. In the Hebrew, I’m not a Hebrew scholar, I understand this. Is that what it literally says in the Hebrew is that a man Jacobed with him. A man, Jacobed with Jacob. The name Jacob means to wrestle. It means to grab, it means to grapple with and so a man comes and Jacobs with Jacob. A man comes and wrestles with Jacob. It’s a play on words because at this point in the passage we want to be, we’re being reminded of the fact that, Jacob’s life has been a life of wrestling. It’s been a life of grappling, a life of grasping for things. So Jacob has been someone presented to us who is always trying to get the upper hand. Someone who’s jockying for position. Somebody who is trying to find an advantage. Somebody who wants to steal a march.

That’s how Jacob was presented to us in this story. And what Jacob has been doing to others, Esau and Laban in particular, is now being done to him. A man came and Jacobed with Jacob. Here’s the question and I think this is the question being drawn out by this particular passage. The question is, who has Jacob been wrestling with all his life? Who has Jacob been wrestling with all his life? Jacob was a child who wanted to be someone else. Did that ever happen to you? Did you ever want to be someone else as a kid? He wanted to be Esau in fact. That’s who Jacob wanted to be. He wanted to be his elder brother. Do you remember Jacob was born holding on to Esau’s heel. He, under very dodgy circumstances, bought Esau’s birthright. He stole Esau’s blessing.

And when his blind father asked him the question, who are you? Jacob replied, I am Esau your firstborn. Jacob was a child who wanted to be someone else. Jacob was a child who wanted to be his big brother. Why? Because his big brother was the first born. That’s what Jacob wanted to be. Why? Because Esau was strong. He was mature. He was a hunter and above all else, he was his father’s favourite. Jacob grew up wanting to be Esau. There was a French anthropologist. He’s dead now, called him René Girard, and he developed this idea, which he called the mimetic theory and it goes something like this. In his observations of people, he noticed that people who struggled with a sense of identity, people who were not confident of their own identity, consciously or unconsciously found someone they wanted to be and began to mimic them.

And he talked about the impact that that had upon them, but also the people close to them. People who struggled with a sense of confidence in who they were, often mimic someone else, the person that they wanted to be like. I don’t know whether I’ve asked you already that question. As a child, was there someone that you wanted to be? As an adult have you ever experienced the same temptation? I would just love to be like you. I’d love your life.

I’m not comfortable with myself and I’m not comfortable in my own skin and I would like to be like you. If you are, then can I suggest to you that you’re not on your own? It’s interesting that in our culture, our 21st century culture today, identity plays a massive part. So we, we hear today about people who self identify. We hear about identity politics and that’s why this passage is so prophetic for our day because in this passage what we see, as God wrestles with Jacob, what is happening is that Jacob is actually being shifted away from this life of wanting to be Esau, this identity that was rooted in Esau, that God is shifting Jacob away from that and actually rerouting Jacob’s identity. That Jacob’s identity is no longer I want be my big brother. That Jacob’s identity is actually an identity in God.

Isn’t it fascinating? In verse 27 do you see there, verse 27 do you see the question that Jacob is asked? What’s the question? Anybody see it there? The man asked him, what is your name? And the last time Jacob was asked that question, he said Esau. What does he say now? Jacob. You see the shift and at the end of the passage, Jacob is actually renamed. He’s renamed Israel. He gets a new name. He gets a new identity. I want to suggest to you to this evening that actually this is a significant part of God’s work in all of our lives. Do you know what? Jacob is 62 in this passage. You would think by 62 he knew who he was. But the reality is that even at 62 you can still struggle with your sense of identity

And maybe at 72 and maybe at 82. I suggest to you that actually no matter what age we may find ourselves at what age and stage in life, there are times when we struggle with that question, who are you? And God is answering that for Jacob in our passage. And so we see God asking Jacob who are you? Because that’s the question of your life, Jacob. That’s the question that you’ve been wrestling with all your life. So tell me who you are you? And Jacob says, I am Jacob. I am the grappler. I’m the wrestler, I’m the grasper. I’m the cheat. And God says to Jacob, no, you’re not. You are Israel. God’s giving Jacob a new identity. And there is this transitional moment where, and it’s the moment where’ Jacob is wounded by God. They’re wrestling. God dislocates Jacob’s hip. God wounds Jacob. And it’s in the wounding that the penny drops for Jacob. And it goes from Jacob wrestling with God to Jacob clinging onto God. And God says to Jacob, let me go. And Jacob says to God, I will not let you go. Verse 26 then the man said, let me go for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, I will not let you go unless you bless me. And it’s gone from this wrestling, pushing God away, trying to get free of God to I’m not letting you go. I am refusing to let you go unless you bless me. Now what’s going on there? I think this is what’s going on. That Jacob in that moment is suddenly realizing that for all his life what he has sought has been the affirmation and the validation of his father Isaac. He wanted to be his father’s favourite. And he realizes in this moment that the only true validation of someone comes from God. And Jacob has for all his life sought to find someone who will love him. And he thought that he’d found that in Rachel his wife, and he’s in this moment, he suddenly realized that actually the source of true love is not Rachel, but it’s God. And for Jaocob, for all his life. He’s wanted someone to bless him and that’s why he wanted to steal it from his brother. But in that moment of wounding, Jacob realizes that the source of true blessing isn’t to steal it from someone else. It’s to receive it from God.

In that moment, Jacob realizes that God is the source of true validation, true love. That God is the source of true blessing. And that’s why Jacob says to God, I’m not letting you go. When our son was born on the 15th of September, 1998, we called him Jacob. And he’s 20 years old now and he’s a big lad, he’s much taller than I am. He probably could put me over his back and carry me now. Phil Corrigan, he was a pastor of a church in Belfast, Belfast city vineyard, wrote Jacob, our newborn, a letter and he and his wife said that they had a prayer for Jacob and the prayer for my son would be this, that my son would not let go of God until God blessed him. And I think that’s just a beautiful attitude for all of us, not just my son and not just Jacob from Genesis, but for all of us that we say to our heavenly father, I’m not letting you go unless you bless me because you are the source of love. You are the source of validation. You’re the source of true blessing. I’m clinging onto you.

Just a tiny tangent and then we’ll get back on track. We’re nearly finished. I wonder whether it makes you feel uncomfortable, and I guess it ought to make us all feel uncomfortable at the thought of God wounding Jacob. I think that should make us all feel uncomfortable. The song we just signed “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. “

It’s got a lovely little tune, doesn’t it? A very nice tune, but have you looked at the words? Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. That’s lovely, isn’t it? Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me. And then what comes next? Make me. Some versions of this song are a little bit more courageous. They say, break me, melt me, mold me, fill me. There should’ve been a warning, actually a health warning before we had sung this. This little chorus. Did I mean that when I prayed that song? Break me, make me, melt me, mold me?

We have a God who is willing to wound us in order to bless us. Tim Keller says this. God out of love becomes the enemy of our old self. God out of love becomes the enemy of our pride. God out of love becomes the enemy of the wicked me. And he brings me to weakness in order to heal me. And, and I’m suggesting that that’s not an easy thought to reflect on this evening. But I wonder at times whether my pride, Clive Atkinson’s pride is so strong, that the old Clive Atkinson is so strong that actually sometimes God has wound me in order to heal me. Reshaped and renamed. Finally, and this is, this last thought is a quick thought. Is that Jacob was reshaped and renamed. He was blessed in order to be a blessing to others. The promise that God gave to Abraham and Isaac – grandfather, father now to Jacob, is that Jacob’s descendants not only would be a blessing to themselves, but they would be a blessing to all nations. And so what God is doing in Jacob right now is actually not just for Jacob, It’s for everyone.

And, and I find that quite comforting that whatever the making and the breaking and the melting in the molding is in me, it’s not just for me, but that God would make me into someone who would be a blessing to others. If I’ve told this story before, would you forgive me and look surprised. If this is the first time, then that’s good. My brother in law, his name is Ronnie Cartmel and he’s a magnificent man. Ronnie’s now in his 60’s probably the same age as Jacob in our story. And Ronnie is married to my Gillian, who is quite a remarkable woman. Ronnie was a member of the police force in Northern Ireland during the 70s and the 80s. If you knew anything about Northern Irish history, you’ll realize that being a police officer in Northern Ireland during that time was exceptionally dangerous.

And he experienced losing colleagues, durng the troubles and the main way in which Ronnie coped with that trauma was through alcohol. And he became an alcoholic. It was well hidden. And so when my sister married him, it wasn’t something that was dominating his life, but the older that he got, the less able he was to deal with the trauma that he was experiencing. And it got to a stage – they had two boys at that stage – that it was either going to be separation or Ronnie had to face what he was going through. And eventually he said yes, and he went into to rehab and in rehab he managed to face the pain of his trauma. He came out, he got involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and he rediscovered his faith, his childhood faith and returned to the Lord. I visited them in February again and I have to say he is one of the people, one of the men in my life who I admire the most. He’s been dry now for well over 20 years. That experience transformed him. It was a blessing to him. But that transformation in his life was not only a blessing to him, it was a blessing to his marriage. They have a fantastic marriage and it wasn’t just a blessing to their marraige but it was a blessing to their two boys who grew up with a father who faced his alcoholism and has beaten it.

They are blessed as a consequence. So whatever the Lord is doing in your life right now, whatever, making and melting and molding, he may do to you. Can I just encourage you today, tonight, can I encourage you? Because that may be difficult. It may be a wrestling match right now. It may be painful. You may feel that you’re being wounded, but what the Lord is doing in you today can have such a blessing upon those around you. And reshaped, renamed, finding our identity in God and being blessed not just for ourselves, but being blessed for those around us. So Genesis 32 describes a God who’s at work in us, how God wants to shift our center of gravity our center of identity away from unhealthy things, from the Esaus’ of life into himself. And he does that so that he can bless us and by blessing us, bless others.

9 June 2019 – Talk by Clive Atkinson

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I wonder, can you remember what you were doing 54 days ago? No looking at your iPhone! Can you remember what you were doing 54 days ago? Well, 54 days ago, probably about this time I was sitting in our church hall down in Vevey having a meal with about seven or eight people. It was Maunday Thursday. And we were eating together and after we’d eaten together, we shared the Lord’s supper together. And we were using that evening to remember the night before Jesus died. When Jesus met with his disciples, you will remember they shared a meal together and he washed their feet. The day after that we gathered to celebrate Good Friday. And we did that down in Vevey and we were here, again around this time, in St. Peter’s. We gathered for an hour to hear the Bible read and to hear some music.

That helped us focus upon the death of Jesus and Good Friday. And then Easter Sunday we were back here again at St. Peter’s 5.30 for our Easter celebration to celebrate the fact that the Lord is risen. He is risen indeed, hallelujah. And so here we are today, 50 days later. 50 days, which is why we call this Sunday, Pentecost. 50 days after the Passover, after Easter. And the reason why I’m just reminding you of what we did 50 days ago, is because our gospel reading tonight – John 14 – is set the night before Jesus died. So Jesus has had a meal with his disciples. He’s just washed their feet, I think quite an awkward, uncomfortable moment for a number of them.

And Jesus has begun to talk about the Holy Spirit. The night before he dies. And that’s why we have this reading this evening. John 14 You have it in your service booklet. It would be lovely if you just keep that to hand because I want us to think about that this evening. It’s important also to to realize that the words of Jesus that he speaks about the Holy Spirit are set against the backdrop of pain, a backdrop of pain. On that night we have Judas, we have Judas betraying Jesus. So Jesus is having a meal with his disciples. He’s washed their feet. It must be a beautiful atmosphere in the room and Jesus drops three bombshells. One, one of the people who that he’s just shared a meal with, a person whose feet he’s washed, someone’s going to betray them. Somebody is going to betray him that night. And if that wasn’t a big enough bomb shell, he then goes on to say that somebody who’s just shared a meal with, whose feet he has just washed, is going to deny him. There’s two bombshells in a matter of a minute. And then comes the third one. Betrayal, denial and then the third one departure. Jesus is leaving. Jesus is leaving. His time with his disciples has come to an end.

And it’s in the context of that pain. I wonder, have you ever felt betrayed or have you ever felt that a friend’s, denied you? Or have you ever experienced someone who has, maybe a close intimate friend, who’s left you?

And so in the context of that pain that Jesus speaks these words, very first words, the first phrase in John’s Gospel, we don’t have it here. He says this. Do not let your hearts be troubled. It’s against this backdrop of pain that Jesus speaks this phrase. Do not let your heart be troubled. And he goes on to talk about why they don’t have to have troubled hearts. Against this backdrop of pain, against this backdrop of betrayal and denial and departure. And it’s against that backdrop that Jesus begins to speak about the Holy Spirit. And I just want to share with you the two things I think he says to his disciples about the Holy Spirit coming. And here’s the first one.

Because the Holy Spirit is coming, Jesus is really not going away. He’s really not going away. Early on in John 14, Jesus has assured his troubled disciples that one day they will be with him forever. Do you remember these words? In my father’s house there are many mansions. And if that were not so, would I have told you that I’m going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. Jesus is saying to them that one day his disciples will be with him forever. And that’s a great promise, isn’t it? It’s a great promise that death doesn’t have the last word. And Jesus wants his disciples to know that. Yes, Jesus is going away and yes, one day his disciples will be with them forever, but there is more to come.

If you’ve got your John 14 open in front of you, have a look at verses 15 to 16. This is Jesus speaking to his disciples. If you love me, keep my commandments. Verse 16 and I will ask the father and he will give you another comforter. Another advocate to help you and to be with you forever. Not only are the disciples going to be with one day with Jesus forever, but what Jesus is teaching them now is that he is going to be with them by the spirit. There’s one word in verse 16, which is really important and it’s the word, another. Our family tradition was on Sunday afternoons we had a big meal together. It wasn’t at lunchtime. We had ours, in Northern Ireland you called itdinner time, but dinner time is sort of five or six in the evening.

And the words that you wanted my mother to hear, or wanted to hear my mother say to us, where these words. Would you like another helping? And the answer to that question was always yes . My mother was a wonderful cook. Particularly when it came to desserts. Would you like another helping? If people say that to me today, I tend to say I better not. But when my mother said, would you like another helping? What she was saying is, would you like a helping just like the first one. Exactly like the first one. Would you like roasties and would you like a little bit more surloin meat or would you like another yorkshire pudding or which would you like? And so on and so forth. A helping just like the first. And so when Jesus says to his disciples, I’m going to ask the father and he’s going to send you another comforter, another advocate. What Jesus is saying is this. Is that the father is going to send to the disciples someone just like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is just like Jesus. He is another comforter. Jesus has been the comforter. Now they are getting another comforter just like Jesus. Jesus has been the advocate, the one who’s spoken truth to them. Now they are getting another advocate just like Jesus. Another comforter, another advocate. The Holy Spirit is the continuation of Jesus with us. Yes, not physically beside us. But a reality within us. And that’s why in Paul’s letters, particularly in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is often referred to as the spirit of Christ. Holy Spirit, spirit of Christ. Same thing. Holy Spirit is Christ in us. The Holy Spirit is Christ in us. And that’s true of each and every believer, each and every Christian. So maybe tonight you are a man in your 50s very, very early fifties but 50s nonetheless and you’re a believer. Well, the Holy Spirit lives within you. Or maybe you’re a lady and I won’t mention age at this point because it would be completely inappropriate. And you’re a believer. Well, the Holy Spirit, spirit of Christ, lives in you.

Maybe you are a chief executive of a business or maybe you’re what we would have called back in Ireland a bin man, a refuse collector. Well, irrespective of what you do, if you’re a believer, guess what? The Holy Spirit lives within you. The spirit of Christ lives and you just elbow the person beside you and say the Holy Spirit lives within you. That’s the promise of the father. That for every single believer, irrespective of gender or age or class or status or background, Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit. I will ask the father and he will give you another comforter, another advocate.

Before we move on. I just love the imagery that Jesus uses to describe what it’s like to have the Holy Spirit living in you. So if see in in verse 16 that Jesus talks about the other advocate who has come to help you and be with you. And so having the Holy Spirit within you means that we’re going to experience being helped, being accompanied. Verse 18, Jesus uses the phrase of the Holy Spirit coming and he describes it this way. I will not leave you as orphans. In other words, having the Holy Spirit within you means that you have a sense of belonging to a family.

I met somebody for the first time, well, not for the first time, but I spent meaningful time with this person for the first time this week. And they were, they were sharing with me about how their children are adopted and described, as a father, one of the things that he has to do repeatedly with them, even though they have had these children now for nearly 15, 16 years, is to remind them daily that they belong. Because they struggle with a sense of abandonment. And as a father, and his wife as a mother, every day to remind their preciously loved children that they belong. And that’s one of the things that the Holy Spirit seeks to do for us to remind us that we belong. We’re not orphans. We’re not estranged in this world. That we belong to our father’s family. So the first thing that Jesus wants to teach his disciples against this background of pain – remember betrayal, denial, departure – is that in reality, he’s not going away. The spirit is the spirit of Jesus who comes to live within us.

But Jesus has one more thing that he wants to say to his disciples. And it’s about love. And it’s about truth. On Friday past we had a kid’s club down in Vevey. We had about 29 kids all under the age of 10, all who had had too much sugar, and were really energetic and full of life. And we had a little strap line for our Holy Bible Club, our Fun Friday, as we call it, and it goes like this. When life is sad God is good. So whenever I said, when life is sad, they would shout back. God is good. And we had this particular 10 year old who decided that he would be very contrary. And so I said, when life is bad or when life is sad, he shouted back, God is mad. And you knew what? That child spoke wisdom. Because how many of us as adults have gone through sad times and questioned God. God, are You mad? Why are you allowing this to happen?

Life is sad. Sometimes we conclude that God stepped away. God’s backed off. God’s love is stopped. God’s mad. And Jesus now addresses that very issue. Remember the context. Betrayal, denial and departure against this background of pain. Jesus has spoken words, profound words. When he said to his disciples, do not let your hearts be troubled. Against this background of pain. Do not let your heart. Jesus is inviting his disciples, even in their pain, to trust him with their pain. To not conclude that they are no longer loved. To not conclude that they are abandoned. Because he then says to his disciples – when he’s speaking of the Holy Spirit – verse 16, again, just to go back to that verse. He says that he’s going to ask the father and the father’s going to send another. We’ve looked at that word, another, another, and in my Bible its translated advocate. Another advocate. In some translations, it’s counselor in some translations, it’s comforter. What Jesus is saying is that the Holy Spirit when he comes, he’s going to come with truth. He’s an advocate who brings truth to us. A counselor who brings truth to us. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been in therapy and a counselor has brought truth to you. That is one of the things that the Holy Spirit does is, is that he brings the truth, the truth, that Jesus has taught. The truth, that Jesus has embodied, lived out and he brings that to us.

In verse 17, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the spirit of truth. Back up half a dozen verses, and we’ll hear Jesus say: I am the way, the truth, and the life. The Holy Spirit brings us the truth that Jesus teaches, the truth that Jesus embodies. And he brings that to us. And Jesus highlights a particular truth. Verses 20 and 21, that the holy spirit will bring to us. If you’re looking at John 14, have a look at 20 to 21. This is, this is Jesus speaking to his disciples. Here’s one of the truths that the Holy Spirit will bring to us. Verse 20 on that day, what day? The day that the Holy Spirit comes, you will realize that I am in the Father and you are in me and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love them. One of the things that the Holy Spirit, one of the truths that the Holy Spirit will bring to us is that we are intimately and deeply connected, not only to Jesus – you are in me – that beautiful phrase. But not only are we deeply connected to Jesus that we are in him, but we are also deeply and intimately connected to the Father. And what does that mean in reality? Well, it means in reality that we will know the Father’s love and the love of the Son as well. Here’s the truth, one of the truths that the Holy Spirit will bring to us and it’s this. We are loved. Loved by the Father. We are loved by the Son. The Holy Spirit make real to us. It makes real to us the experience of that love. I think it’s a wonderful prayer to pray. Holy Spirit, will you open up my mind and my heart to the love that the Father has for me? Holy Spirit, will you open up my mind and heart to the love that the Son has for me.

I think that’s a great prayer to prey. So here’s your homework. Why don’t you pray that every day for the next week. Maybe you wake up in the morning, the alarm clock’s going off, before you get up. Just pray that. And if you’re feeling adventurous as you put your head on the pillow at night, why don’t you pray it again? So that’s your homework for next week.

One of my favourite hymns is written by a Scotsman called George Matheson. The hymn is entitled: O love that wilt not let me go. Does anybody know that hymn? O love that wilt not let me go. This is George Matheson talking about this hymn. He said this. “My hymn was composed in the months on the evening of June the sixth, 1882. I was at that time alone. It was the day of my sister’s marriage and the rest of my family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something had happened to me which was known only to myself and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruits of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes.” I never imagined writing a hymn in five minutes. In five minutes. “And equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have written are manufactured articles. This came like a day spring from on high. I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse”

And then this is an editor’s note. “Matheson obviously didn’t intend to tell us what caused his most severe mental suffering. But people who know his background strongly suspect that it had to do with a heartbreaking experience several years earlier. His fiancé had broken her engagement to him, telling him that she couldn’t see herself going through life, married to a blind man. Matheson was blind. Matheson never married, and it seems likely that his sister’s wedding brought the memory of the woman that he had loved and the wedding that he had never enjoyed. And the title of the hymn that he wrote: O love that wilt not let me go.

That’s the love that the Holy Spirit brings to each one of us. The love of the father and the love of the son. John 14, that’s set against pain. What are they again? Betrayal, denial, departure. Against that pain ends with Jesus speaking these words. Peace. You probably know these words. Peace. I leave with you. My peace, I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. How can he say those words? He can say those words, because he knows the spirit’s coming. Come Holy Spirit. Amen.