Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sermon: Daniel 6:1-28 The Lions' Den

Who likes going to the zoo? What’s your favourite animal at the zoo? ... This morning we’re thinking about one animal in particular, which we heard about in our Bible reading. Does anyone know which one? The lion.

Now when you go to the zoo, can you get up to touch the lions? Can you give them a wee stroke the way you might stroke your cat at home? No! Why not? The lions are dangerous.

Why are they so dangerous? They’ve got sharp teeth and sharp claws. You can’t just go into the lions’ enclosure - it would be too dangerous. Lions are normally longer than I am tall - between 5 foot 7 and 8 foot 2 (170 - 250 cm); they stand about four foot tall shoulder height; and they weigh between 23 and 39 stone (150-250 kg). You wouldn’t want to go in beside them!

And yet that’s where Daniel was put. Daniel was thrown into the lions den. Why was that?

Last week we heard of how King Belshazzar of Babylon lost his kingdom. Now King Darius is in charge. [Get volunteers to act it out] He has three people helping him rule the kingdom. So anything Darius needs done, Daniel and the two others do it. But the others don’t like Daniel - he always worked hard; he didn’t take bribes; he made sure to do whatever was needed. He was a Christian in the workplace, doing what was right.

Now I’m sure that you all do your homework all the time, and always work hard in school - but imagine there was someone in your class who doesn’t want to do that. Do they like the hardworking people in the class? No, because they make the rest look bad.

So Daniel’s workmates tried to find something wrong with him to try to get rid of him. But there was nothing. They decided it had to be something about his God - because Daniel trusted in God.

So all his workmates went to the king and made a law which said that you could only pray to the king (and no one else) for the next month. Daniel went home and did what he always did - he opened up his window and prayed to God - three times a day.

The men took Daniel to the king and told him what had happened. He was praying to God, not to the king. The king knew he had been tricked, but there was nothing he could do. He had to throw Daniel into the lions’ den.

To make sure Daniel couldn’t climb out, a big stone was placed over the hole. The stone was sealed with the king’s seal, so that he had to stay. That night, the king was very worried about Daniel. He didn’t eat any dinner. He didn’t play on his Nintendo DS. He couldn’t watch TV. He didn’t sleep. He was worried.

As soon as it was light, the king went to the lions’ den to see what had happened. He shouted out: ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?’

Can you imagine waiting to hear if there was any answer? Surely the lions would have eaten him? But there it was - Daniel shouted back to him. God had shut the mouths of the lions so that they didn’t touch him, they didn’t eat him.

Daniel was brought up out of the den, and there were no wounds on him. No scratch marks, no teeth marks. He was safe! God was able to keep him safe and rescue him from the lions.

But do you know what? Daniel reminds me of another story. Daniel points us to another place of death, where a man was put inside, and a big stone was put over the door, and the stone was sealed in place. Does anyone know the story?

But early in the morning, the man had been put in the place of the dead - not just where lions might eat you - but he was actually dead. But early that morning, he was alive.

The way that God rescued Daniel points us to and reminds us of the way that God rescues us - because Jesus died, and was laid in the grave, but rose to new life. We remind ourselves of his new life because we meet together each week on a special day - Sunday, the Lord’s Day, when we remember that Jesus is alive.

Darius the king told everybody about how God had rescued Daniel. Jesus has told us to go and share the good news about how he has rescued us. It’s why we sing our songs. God is able to rescue us from something even scarier than lions - from our sins.

This sermon was preached at the Church Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 20th October 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Harvest Sermon: Isaiah 55:1-13 The Great Invitation

I always enjoy seeing the postman arriving, and seeing what has come in the post. Working from home, as soon as I hear the post hitting the mat, I can see what we’ve received. The pile is quickly sorted - letters for Lynsey, brown envelopes (probably bills so we’ll leave those til last), white envelopes, flyers and junk mail... But every once in a while, there’ll be something different. The envelope is fancier than just white paper, the address might be written in calligraphy, it’s much more exciting than the phone bill or whatever.

Opening the envelope, there’ll be a fancy card, probably hand made, lots of effort, with ribbons or bows or hearts or whatever the fashion is for them this year. And on the inside, yes, you’ve guessed it - Mr and Mrs ... invite you to the wedding of their daughter... We’ve all received a wedding invite at one time or another. You’re invited to come along and join in the celebration.

In our Old Testament reading, we find an exciting invitation, not to a wedding as such, but to a great feast. God himself is speaking, inviting us to drink, to eat, to be satisfied in him. Listen to verse 1: ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ It’s an invitation to hungry, thirsty, needy people, people who despite having money and possessions aren’t satisfied by them. Verse 2: ‘Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’

Do you remember when you got your first pay packet? Suddenly you have your own money; you can buy what you like. My first job was after school in a corner shop. Two shifts in the week meant that I got about £10. I literally was a child in a sweetshop! But the things that were bought didn’t really satisfy. I thought I was rich, but the things bought wouldn’t satisfy. The hunger continues to grow, the thirst never leaves us.

What can we do? Will we just continue round the cycle forever and ever, wanting more, getting it, then wanting more? Into our situation, God sends his invitation - to drink, to eat, to live - without money and without cost. Completely free - just come and listen, come and eat, come and be satisfied. The last verses of the chapter give us a picture of the satisfaction available: joy and peace, so that even the mountains and hills and trees join the celebration! Things are turned around, from thorns to pine trees, from briers to myrtle.

The invitation is for all people. David in verse 3 is the kingly Messiah, the witness to the peoples, so that many peoples will be drawn to him, even nations unknown. No longer is the promise just for the Jews; all nations are invited to come and share in the blessings to Abraham. When Isaiah had written this down, if you’d been able to tell him that two and a half thousand years later, people gathered in a wee hall in the countryside of Ulster would be reading and hearing his words, he’d have asked where?! The invitation has come to us, and is for us, and for all people.

You see, the seeking after things, possessions, money, wealth, it’s all foolish and sinful. God the creator wants us to enjoy him, but we just want to enjoy the things he has made, without him. We enjoy wickedness, rather than what is true and good.

The invitation to come and be satisfied also requires us to change (through God’s rich mercy). You see, God is the ‘Holy One of Israel’ (verse 5), the one whose thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways. He is holy, and we are sinful. We must be changed, as we accept the invitation.

Just as you wouldn’t dream going to a wedding in the everyday clothes you would open the post in, so God’s invitation urges us to be changed: Verse 7 - ‘Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts.’ Turning away from sin, turning towards God - this is the essence of repentance, which is how we respond to God’s invitation. And as we do, we find a great surprise: God promises a welcome, mercy, and pardon.

‘Let him return to the LORD, and he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’ There is no doubt - as we turn to God, he WILL have mercy, he WILL pardon! ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.’ What great news this is! We expect to have to pay for our sin, to make up for the wrong that we do, to bear the punishment, but God declares a free pardon, complete mercy.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t very good with library books. I would get them out, and take them home, read them, but then they would get lost in the mess of my bedroom. Weeks turned into months, sometimes even years. I daren’t have gone back to the library because of the massive fines. But every so often there would be an advert in the local paper declaring an amnesty for overdue library books. The books could be returned, and no fine would be charged. A free pardon. You can imagine my joy - I hunted for the books, and got straight down to the library!

All that to avoid a fine of a couple of pounds (a lot of money to a nine-year old!) - what great news to be offered free pardon for a lifetime of sin and wickedness! It’s free, but it’s not without cost. Say that you owed a friend £100. If your friends says not to worry about it - you get off for free; you don’t have to pay it back; but it’s because your friend has paid the cost of it.

Our free pardon comes because of what Jesus has done on the cross. He has paid our debt as he takes our sin and gives us the pardon. Our sins have been paid - you go free.

The invitation has been made - come and be satisfied. The invitation is for all people - get the word out. The invitation requires change - turn and be pardoned. God then goes on to show that the invitation will be successful. I remember when we sent out our wedding invites, we had no idea who would say they were coming - it was the middle of the holidays, and some people had booked flights etc already. But here, God says that his word is powerful and effective - the invitation will be answered, just as the rain is also fruitful.

Now we’re very familiar with the rain in this part of the world. There was some amount of it fell yesterday. Just as God sends the rain and snow (verse 10), which makes the plants grow, and gives us a fruitful harvest, providing all the crops that we see around us, so God’s word is also fruitful. Verse 11: ‘So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ God’s word will do what he wants - those who hear will respond as God wills.

Look back at verses 2 and 3 - The way to respond is to hear God’s word: ‘Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.’ How do we hear the powerful invitation? We listen to God’s word - here, the prophet Isaiah declares the invitation many years before Jesus was born, yet it’s the same invitation that Jesus gives: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28)

The invitation echoes down through the Bible as God invites us into his people, in relationship with him. It’s all pointing forward to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the feasting and joy in heaven.

The invitation has been made - come and be satisfied. The invitation is for all people. The invitation requires change - turn and be pardoned. The invitation will be successful - listen to the call. But there’s one last verse I want to mention. When we get a wedding invite, I’m always very slow to reply. I forget to get the acceptance card, or the invite disappears under the mountain of paper on my desk. Or it sits on the hall table without being posted. I’m slow to reply, and almost missed out on one wedding through a late reply!

Verse 6 tells us the invitation is urgent: ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.’ You have heard the invitation to new life today, don’t leave it too late to respond. We’re called to seek the LORD while he may be found - one day it will be too late - perhaps even tonight for some of you. The deadline will pass, and the LORD will say ‘time’. A wee while back, there was talk of a thing known as ‘Fergie Time’ - where it seemed that Manchester United kept playing until they scored a late equaliser or even a late winner. But there is no added on time. How terrible to leave it too late, and miss out on the great invitation, to miss the rich feasting, the satisfaction, the joy of sins forgiven, of peace with God, of tremendous mercy.

God has given you an invitation today. What will you do with it? ‘Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.’

This sermon was preached at the Harvest Service in Cornafanog Orange Hall on Thursday 17th October 2013.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sermon Audio: Daniel 5

On Sunday morning we returned to our series in Daniel, where the writing's on the wall for King Belshazzar. Hear why this king was finished, and how we need to learn from the saints of the past in this our generation.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sermon: Daniel 5: The writing's on the wall

It’s amazing just how many everyday sayings find their origin in the Bible. By the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20); gird your lions (1 Kings 18:46); the fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:1); and how the mighty have fallen (2 Samuel 1:19). This morning, our Bible reading contains another of those everyday sayings. The writing’s on the wall. You know what it means - something bad is about to happen; the signs are there. But let’s see where the writing came from, and what it’s all about.

We’ve moved on now from King Nebuchadnezzar. He’s no longer the king; now it’s Belshazzar. He hosts a great big party - a thousand guests, all lords in his kingdom. There’s wine flowing, in fact, so much, that Belshazzar gives the command for the cups of gold and silver from Jerusalem to be brought into the party.

Remember how Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem? He had brought along the vessels from the temple - the cups that were used in the temple worship. Now Belshazzar uses them - not to worship the living God, but instead to praise ‘the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. He’s using things devoted and set apart for God’s glory to worship false gods. What a betrayal! It’s just like what Paul says in Romans 1, speaking of how humans have exchanged the truth about God for idols.

But before you too quickly jump to condemn Belshazzar - is this something that we also can do? We may not explicitly speak out praise for the god of gold or whatever. We may not have a wee idol set up in our homes. But do we use God’s gifts for the glory of another? Do we take what is rightfully God’s and use it selfishly? If we are described as the temple of the Holy Spirit, how do we use our bodies - for God’s glory or for our own?

As Belshazzar is mid drink, suddenly a hand appears and begins to write on the wall. Now I know that in some houses writing can appear on the wall in felt tip or crayon and no one knows anything about it; but this was much more than a child’s scrawl. Belshazzar watches as it happens. He sees it, and suddenly he’s terrified. His knees knock, his limbs give way - he has never seen anything like this before. And what’s worse, he can’t read it.

Panicked, he calls for the king’s wise men, you know the enchanters, Chaldeans and diviners; but by this stage we know that they’re going to be useless. Despite the king’s promise of purple, pomp and position, no one can read it.

Just then the Queen Mother arrives into the hall. She had heard the panic and came to see what the fuss was all about. She tells the king about Daniel, who in the days of Nebuchadnezzar was chief of the magicians. She knows that (just as before) Daniel will be the one to interpret.

Look at verse 17. Daniel says that he is going to read the writing - but it’s not until verse 25 that he actually does it. First, he gives the king a little history lesson. He reminds him of how great a king Nebuchadnezzar was - because the Most High God had given him the kingdom. In verse 20 there’s a recap of chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and humbling. It was a painful lesson for Nebuchadnezzar to learn - but here’s the point (v22): ‘And you, Belzhazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this!’

Belshazzar knew about what had happened, and yet he refused to listen; he wouldn’t learn from it. It’s a bit like the feeling in Europe after the Great War that this was the war to end all wars. Yet within a generation, World War Two had begun. The lessons hadn’t been learned.

But if that was a problem politically, how much more when it is seen in the spiritual realm. How often we find godly parents who find it so difficult to pass on the faith to the next generation. The children grow up, they decide to go their own way. And it breaks the parents’ hearts.

God does not have spiritual grandchildren. We cannot presume to be a Christian just because your mum sang in the choir or your dad was churchwarden one time. To have Christian parents is a great privilege. Nebuchadnezzar had come to faith in the living God. But the next generation also must come to trust for themselves. Belshazzar knew the truth, but would not submit. Instead, he set himself up against the Lord of heaven.

His folly is seen in verse 23: ‘You have praised the gods... which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured.’ This is the God who reigns over all; who sees all; who gives us the very breath we need to live. The God who sent the hand which wrote on the wall.

The message is clear - mene - God has numbered your days; tekel - you have been weighed and found wanting; peres (the plural of parsin) - the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. They’re sobering words. They certainly sobered up Belshazzar from his drunken revelry, and brought him face to face with his future.

I wonder if those words were written on your wall, how you would fare? Numbered, weighed, divided. At the beginning of the Communion service we hear the great commandment, to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Have we achieved that for a minute, let alone a lifetime? While our sins may be different to Belshazzar - the actions we do; the root cause of sin is exactly the same: we fail to give God the honour he deserves.

We rightly deserve the same sentence. Yet here we are, gathered at a great feast, with vessels of wine. We meet, not for drunkenness, but around the Table of the Lord. We drink the wine as we remember the one who perfectly honoured the Father in every moment of his life; the sinless one who gave his life for sinners; who shed his blood of the new covenant for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Belshazzar hears the message, but does not repent. He continues to act in his kingly way - Daniel is clothed in purple, given a chain of gold and proclaimed to be third in the kingdom. And it was all pointless. At the very time that Belshazzar had been feasting, the Medes and Persians had been ready to attack - having diverted the river Euphrates away from the city giving them easy access. Belshazzar is finished. Darius the Mede becomes King.

The writing was on the wall for Belshazzar. The writing is on the wall for us, too, unless we take refuge in the king. Paul writes to the Colossians that Jesus was ‘erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.’ (2:14)

Come today to the table, eat of the bread and drink of the wine; remember what Jesus has done for you; no longer are we under God’s wrath; we are clothed, not in purple, but clothed in Christ’s righteousness. His kingdom stands for ever. This sup is just a foretaste of that great feast. Come by faith; and go in great joy.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 13th October 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: Grow in Grace

While hunting through my library for some holiday reading back in the summer, I came across this little book on growing in grace by Sinclair Ferguson, and so it made it into my case. I've benefited from Ferguson's ministry for a while - through podcasts, books and his appearance at NIMA. This wee book was no exception - for something so small it packs quite a punch, with lots of helpful advice.

This is, as Ferguson states early on, 'a book about the way we develop and mature as Christians.' He writes about babies being born, but for them, 'birth is only the beginning.' They need to grow, and 'so it is in the Christian life as well.' But rather than focusing on the how-to aspects of prayer and Bible study (important as they are), Ferguson chooses to focus instead on God who gives the growth.

The opening section, 'Christ our life' emphasises that 'everything we need... is to be found exclusively in Jesus.' He is the pioneer, and it is God's purpose to make all his children to be like his Son Jesus - our older brother in the family of God. 'Growing in grace means becoming like Jesus.' As you would expect with Ferguson, he's quickly into doctrine: good, solid, healthy doctrine on the nature of Jesus (fully God and fully man) and why this matters for our growth spiritually. We are reminded of the way in which Jesus grew spiritually, in constant obedience despite temptation. This is then developed in the following chapter on How Jesus Grew, seen in four areas: 1. In the fruit of the Spirit - which is really a picture of Jesus 2. Through the disciplines of life 3. In obedience 4. Through experience. Ferguson also identifies three means of growth, channels of help and blessing - searching the scriptures, finding fellowship with God in prayer, and looking for fellowship with God's people.

Section 2 moves on to consider some 'Basic Principles'. The first is in the wisdom which is the fear of the Lord. A helpful discussion on what is meant by the fear of the Lord follows, in which Ferguson identifies two kinds of fear - servile or filial. Filial - the child's loving fear of the father - is what the Bible refers to, and what we see in Jesus. 'One of the reasons why we know so little of such filial fear today is that we do not appreciate the glory of the gospel!' When motivated by godly fear, 'evangelism is not merely a privilege; it is a debt.' [Which was the second time such a thought had arisen in my holiday reading]

The section continues with a look at spiritual appetite, and specifically what Psalms 42&43 teach us about hunger and thirst for God. Sometimes, as he says, God uses isolation to reach us things we couldn't learn in fellowship. From there, he then moves on to consider a matter of life and death - as seen in many of the New Testament letters written to churches in trouble. 'They were being tempted to look for something extra... in every case it involved the teaching that Christ himself was not enough... Paul's answer was to emphasise the meaning and message of the cross.' The grace of the cross is shown in the demonstration of: 1. the love of God; 2. the justice of God; and 3. the wisdom of God.

The next section concentrates on life together. Firstly, the principle is applied postively - because Jesus died for a people, we have been given gifts in order to love others, not just for ourselves to feel special. Gifts should issue in service. But then there's a whole chapter on the negative aspect of life together, because 'being together causes as many problems as it seems to solve.' There is much practical wisdom in this chapter on how to resolve problems and show Christlike openhearted compassion to restore, rather than being vinegar-hardened conkers intent on smashing others to smithereens.

The closing section is a case study of the lives of three of God's people in the Bible - Daniel who grows faithfully, Simon Peter who moves in fits and starts, and Timothy coping with yourself. There are great insights from these men which are applied carefully, in Ferguson's pastoral manner.

All in all, this is an excellent little book. It would be especially good for new Christians, but Christians of any age or stage will profit from the helpful reminders and gentle nudges towards growing in grace. Published in 1981, this would be a great book for a publisher to re-release for a new generation seeking to grow. Grow in Grace is available from Amazon.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Sermon Audio: Psalm 137

On Sunday morning we took a break from our Daniel series to have a special look at Psalm 137 and the experience of the exiles by the rivers of Babylon. What does this Psalm tell us about God and about God's people, and why should we use all the Psalm, not just the 'nice' bit allowed by the Lectionary compilers?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sermon: John 15:1-17 Connected to Jesus

You might have noticed something extra that I’ve got with my robes tonight. Just sticking out the top of my cassock are my earphones! Now what are earphones used for? They’re for listening music. It’s great. You can be on the bus or sitting in the middle of a big crowd of people, and you can enjoy your favourite music - whether that’s One Direction or Daniel O’Donnell or anyone in between! There’s just one problem... when I put them in my ears, I can’t hear anything. What’s wrong? They’re not connected. If this end isn’t connected into the ipod, then I won’t hear any music.

Or just think of your morning routine. If you’re not quite awake, you’re trying to get ready and wondering why the hairdryer or the toaster won’t work - they need to be plugged in. They need a connection with the power source to make them work; to do what they were made to do.

That’s what Jesus was telling us in our reading tonight. But rather than talk about earphones or hairdryers, Jesus uses another picture. But before we get to that, a little quiz. What country do you identify with the thistle? (Scotland). The shamrock? (Ireland) The maple leaf? (Canada). The fern? (New Zealand). The vine?

The vine was the national symbol of Israel. We heard of it in our first reading where God through Isaiah sings the song of his vineyard. He’s talking about his people. Now, here in John 15, Jesus says ‘I am the true vine.’

Whenever I was growing up, our school always had its harvest service in my church. After the school harvest, everything was cleared up and distributed to the elderly people in the town. But what happened was that during the school service, some of the pupils would take an apple from the window sill, take a big bite out of it, and then put it back, as if it was fine. I didn’t want to get into trouble with your new rector tonight, so I brought along my own grapes!

So where did these grapes come from? How did they grow? They don’t have a factory making grapes like these - the branch has to be connected to the vine. It needs the sap, the power to produce the fruit. In the same way, Jesus says to his disciples: ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’ (John 15:4)

We need the power of Jesus to live as Christians. If we’re not connected to him, we won’t be able to do anything. That’s why Jesus tells us to remain in him - to rest in him, to abide in him, to be joined with him at all times. It’s only by this that we can produce fruit.

Now, here’s a spot the difference for you. What’s the difference between an apple tree and a Christmas tree? (By the way, it’s only 86 days to Christmas and Tesco already have their seasonal stock in). A Christmas tree might look very nice with lights and baubles and tinsel and whatever else you put on a Christmas tree, but they have to be hung on it. The Christmas tree doesn’t produce all those things itself. The apple tree produces its own fruit.

But which are we like? Sometimes it can be very easy to come along to church or to SNATCH, to look good, to seem to be a Christian with a great outward appearance, looking nice and respectable. Or are we producing the fruit of being a Christian - which we’ll see in a moment.

So that’s the basic point Jesus wants us to get tonight - we need to be connected to Jesus. It’s more important than being connected with 5000 friends on Facebook.

But Jesus goes on to show two ways in which being connected to him will impact our life. Here’s the first one: ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ (John 15:7-8)

So how does that sound? Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. Whatever you wish. It sounds a bit like a genie and a magic lamp, doesn’t it? Three friends were on a desert island when they found a lamp. The genie each gave them one wish. The first wished he was in Paris and he disappeared. The second wished he was in Hollywood and he disappeared. The third realised how lonely he was and wished his friends could come back...

So is Jesus saying that we can have whatever we want? Could we go down to the car park to find our cars have been changed into Ferraris or Porsches? But we’ve missed out the first part of the sentence. ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you...’ It’s when we’re connected to Jesus, as his words remain in us, then we can ask whatever we wish and we’ll receive it. It’s not asking for things you want selfishly, rather, it’s about asking for the things Jesus wants because they are the things we want as well. When we’re connected to Jesus, we’ll see answered prayers.

There’s one more effect. Have you ever seen a domino display? You need a steady hand to set it up. One domino moves the next and on and on... We see something the same here as Jesus talks about love. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’ (John 15:9) The Father loves the Son, who loves us, and who do we pass it on to? ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

These words were said in the upper room, just hours before Jesus went to the cross. It was there that he demonstrated the greatest love of all: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ (14) It is as we receive his love - as we see just what Jesus did for us that we are connected to him. Never wander from the love of Jesus. His love is the power that flows from him to us. His love will make us fruitful, as we become more like Jesus.

Jesus commands us to love one another. That’s because it isn’t easy. We’re all different, it takes the love of God to overflow in our hearts to each other as the fruit of the Spirit grows.

One of the problems of buying fruit is that sometimes it goes off quickly. It isn’t all eaten and it goes bad. My banana wouldn’t make it into a harvest display. It’s past its best. It’s only good for the compost heap. But the fruit that we produce when we’re connected to Jesus endures for ever: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.’

Are you connected to Jesus? Perhaps you realise that you’re disconnected, far from him. You need to be plugged in, grafted on. Come to him tonight. Look at the cross, and discover his great love for you, to lay down his life for you.

But maybe you are a Christian. Stay connected. Return again to the cross, and let the love of Jesus flood your heart and overflow - as you pray like Jesus, and love like Jesus, producing spiritual fruit that will last forever.

This sermon was preached at the Harvest Thanksgiving in Colebrooke Church, Aghalurcher Parish on Sunday 29th September 2013