Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Sermon 29th November 2020 – 1st Sunday in Advent Text: Mark 13:24-37 – Worth the wait

 Sermon 29th November 2020 – 1st Sunday in Advent

Text: Mark 13:24-37 – Worth the wait

Jesus says today - “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near”. Jesus obviously has never been to Melbourne. Here we are 2 days out from Summer and I have no idea whether I’m going to have the heater or the air conditioner on today. In fact, quite often I have had both on during the day. This is usually when my jumper drawer empties out – not because I’ve packed them away for Summer but because I’m so cold in the morning that I put on a jumper but by mid-morning I’ve taken it off and put it somewhere. Melbourne has to be unique in that sense of not following the script when it comes to weather.

But I think that is the point of what Jesus is trying to teach us in our Gospel reading today. Perhaps, especially as Christians, you thought the your life would follow a different script. If God is in control – if we are being faithful to God – shouldn’t life be better than what it is?

Isn’t it funny that when things go wrong in the world – whether it be what we’ve been going through with Covid 19 or whether it’s natural disasters or simply the state of the world with war, drugs, crime or whatever makes you disillusioned – isn’t it funny that somehow we think that either God is not in control or that God doesn’t care. But this is the whole point of God sending his Son Jesus into the world. It’s why Jesus directs us to look at the state of the world – but not in despair but with hope.

Firstly, because the world needed Jesus. The world was losing hope waiting for God to send his promised Messiah to save the world. But secondly, and most importantly, to show the world that God was, always has been, and always will be in control of everything – even if the world doesn’t seem that way – even if the media tells us differently.

I must admit there has been times when I have wondered whether the Church and God were in control. When football matches could be played but churches couldn’t gather. When bottle shops were deemed an essential service to remain open but churches were shut. When thousands gathered to cheer and shout at the recent State of Origin and AFL Grand Final but churches have been told it’s dangerous to sing in worship. When you can go to a crowded cafĂ© and take your mask off but you have to keep it on during worship even with social distancing.

I’m sorry if I sound cynical but that’s sometimes how I feel in my faith journey and I know that I’m not alone. But then I read passages like today’s Gospel and I’m reminded that nowhere does the Bible say we’re going to have it easy. Nowhere does it say that the church will be a respected and essential part of society. In fact Jesus says that the world will hate you because of me – but remember it hated me first.

Jesus said: Beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. In these difficult times, Jesus says we are to be awake. Jesus doesn’t paint a pretty picture of flowers and rainbows which often depict the Christian outlook. No he says; the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. What Jesus is encouraging here is to wait patiently and not give up your faith in him. Because it’s not going to always be an easy path – but it’s a path that Jesus himself walked when he himself told the disciples he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed.

But Jesus didn’t end there – he continued – and be raised on the 3rd day. And that’s the hope for us. That all the difficulties in this life will end – and then we too shall be raised. But it’s the wait – and it’s the difficulties that arise during the wait. But Jesus said: Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. The time he refers to is when he returns to bring about the end of the world and Judgment Day.

Waiting is not an easy thing to do – especially waiting for God to do something. If God is going to do something why doesn’t he do it now. 2020 has been a year of waiting and a year of testing our faith. And it isn’t over yet.

We’re happy to be back worshipping but in reality this is exactly where we were 5 months ago before the 2nd wave hit us and we had to shut down again after being back for 3 weeks. So you can understand why some people are nervous. The Good News is that God is working for us as we wait for him.

And we are waiting just as God’s people were waiting for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day 2000 years ago. That glorious moment when God comes to be with us in human form.  That’s how we know God is in control – because he became one of us. And now we are again waiting.  We’re waiting and watching the signs of Christ’s return.  We’re waiting to see Jesus return in our own individual time and place.  But that doesn’t mean that God is not with us now.

God is with us, but it’s the where and how?  As the old saying goes - patience is a virtue, and many of us are deeply wearied by all the waiting we’ve had to do. All the cynical laughs from the world believing that Christmas is just another fairy tale that we believe in. It might feel like 2020 is a year that has been wasted and empty. But is that true?

This has been a year that has made us face what is most important about church?  As you reflect on your waiting this year, what has God grown in you?  Paul reminds us that despite all the hardships that we face in the world – all the hardships being faced by the church that “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ AND he will also strengthen you to the end.”

Look back on this year and see the strength with which you endured its trials. We waited for 7 or more months for our church doors to be open again and we didn’t give up. And there are some who because of health reasons can’t re-join us just yet and we won’t give up on them. And so, we pray, and we stick together, and we love one another, and we wait upon the Lord.

I love what the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 40 - those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. This has been a hard year and it’s not over yet and there’s no guarantee. Just look at what happened in South Australia a couple weeks ago where the entire state was shut down. So we are to stay strong and not grow weary.

God urges us to remain faithful because God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus will return but we don’t know when.  As Jesus said: about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. But when it happens – what a glorious moment that will be. We will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect – you and me - from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. And our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. That is something worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Sermon 22nd November 2020 – Last Sunday of Church Year Text: Matthew 25:31-46 – An unexpected reward

 

Sermon 22nd November 2020 – Last Sunday of Church Year

Text: Matthew 25:31-46 – An unexpected reward

 

Today we celebrate the last Sunday of the church year. Next week we begin our Advent celebrations to prepare for Christmas where we welcome Jesus coming to this earth as an infant. So once again our bible readings are focusing on Jesus return to earth – but not as an infant but in his glory to receive God’s children into Heaven. And what we discover in our Gospel reading today is that those whom Jesus gathers are totally oblivious to the great honour that is about to be bestowed upon them.

 

Often when you see a person win an award, they sort of know beforehand that they are going to receive it but they are supposed to look surprised for the cameras – WHO ME? But not in this situation. Here, those whom the King is calling into his kingdom have no idea what they have done in order to receive this reward. And what I like about this parable that Jesus tells is that it is so freeing.

 

Do you ever wonder about your salvation? These people didn’t. They just lived their everyday life loving their neighbour. They didn’t sell all their possessions and give to the poor. They didn’t leave their jobs and become missionaries. And it’s not as if they did anything out of the ordinary. They saw someone hungry so they gave them something to eat. They saw someone thirsty so they gave them something to drink. So natural was their actions that when the king called them in to receive their inheritance they look stunned.

 

On the other hand, the people that the king is critical with were not bad people. He doesn’t criticise them because they stole from people or because they murdered people. No, his criticism was because they just didn’t care. They were just like the first group that the king commends. Both groups didn’t see the hungry or the thirsty. The difference was that the first group didn’t need to see them. They just lived their daily lives loving and caring for their neighbour. It sort of reminds me of the Hebrews passage where we are encouraged to show hospitality to everyone: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

 

It’s so easy to not see those around us needing our help. We are all busy. We all have so many demands on our time and resources. But those who were most effective in our reading were those who were not doing anything out of the ordinary. They didn’t spend extra time feeding the hungry but it simply became a part of their everyday life. This is the heart of God who loves the world so much that he didn’t hold anything back – he sent his one and only Son. It was so natural for God to do that because of his love for us.

 

And this is what separates us from the rest of creation. WE are created in the image of God to love one another as a natural outpouring of our love for God. Jesus said, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and the 2nd is like it – love your neighbour as yourself.

You can’t keep the first commandment if we neglect the 2nd. When you are hungry the natural instinct is to get something to eat. When you’re thirsty, something to drink. When you’re cold, to put on a jumper.

 

God wants us to see our neighbour as an extension of our ourselves just as God sees us as an extension of himself. We are created in God’s image. In our neighbour we don’t just see an image of God though but of ourselves. So as we prepare for Christmas this year let us remember those for whom Christmas is not a celebration but a reminder of their situation of poverty and loneliness – lonely, hungry – maybe not in prison but trapped in their homes because of Covid 19 and let us be to them the hands and feet and love of God who held nothing back.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Sermon 15th November 2020 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 25:14-30 – A Trusting Relationship

Sermon 15th November 2020 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 25:14-30 – A Trusting Relationship

 

I sort of feel a bit sorry for the 3rd person in Jesus’ parable today. It seemed that his intentions were honourable.  He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought the task that he was given was to protect his master’s possessions. So he protected it by hiding away from everyone else. Like you might hide your valuables in a safe hidden in the floor or behind a picture. Or you might hide your money under the bed. But why did he “hide” his master’s possessions? Because his relationship with his master was one that was based on fear. “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground”.

 

So this parable by Jesus is about looking at our relationship with God. Is our relationship based on trust or on fear? The master trusted all of his servants but only 2 of the servants trusted their master and one feared him.

Again this parable, like last week’s parable about the 5 wise and 5 unwise bridesmaids is about the coming judgement. And something that we learn from today’s parable is that judgement is not about punishing but about God honouring our free will. This 3rd servant was not punished for what he had done but rather the master honoured the relationship that he had. Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid. In turn the master replies: You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?

 

The Christian faith is not about obedience but about relationship. God’s love for us is not dependant on how we live our lives in obedience to his commands. No, Paul says in Romans 5 - God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And neither is God’s love exclusive in that he only loves those who love him:  As John says in his first letter - This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. It’s easy to be distracted from an important message in this parable if we only focus on the third servant.  Do you get this picture in your mind from the 3rd servant that this master is a harsh man? Reaping where he did not sow? Gathering where he did not scatter? The only image we have in this parable is of a generous and trusting master. As he said to the 3rd servant, this master could have banked his entire wealth and received interest.

 

We sometimes miss just how trusting this master is. One talent is believed to be worth 15 year’s salary. The average salary in Australia is $90,000. So to the first servant he gave almost $7,000,000 So this is a very generous and trusting master. And when the one with 5 talents doubled it – he let him keep it to work with and gave him the talent from the 3rd servant. So this parable reminds us that in our relationship with God we do not live in fear. Do we always get things right?    No.  Does God punish us when we get things wrong? No. God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world through him.

 

And St Paul gives the same assurance to us in our 2nd reading today. He does not deny that there is a coming judgement day but he says that those in Christ have nothing to fear: He says: The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. There will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;  for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.

God did not create us for a life in this world as some sort of waiting room where he have to sit tight until the headmaster calls us into his office. No, he wants us to live our lives and enjoy the life that he gave.

Enjoying all that his creation has to offer and not looking over our shoulders like a frightened employee who shouts out to his colleagues – look busy the boss is coming. No, Jesus shows how this master who represents God trusts his people and lavishes on them his wealth. They weren’t rewarded for how much they made but for their trust in their relationship with him.

‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. It was his trust that was rewarded. And like the 3rd servant who pronounced his own judgment so did the first servant. He trusted his master so his master trusted him with even more. Likewise, God is not keeping a tally on what we are doing. He is living in a relationship with us as we are with him. So if we want to get better in our prayer life then let us pray. We reap what WE sow. We might not produce eloquent words or know what to pray sometimes but that’s how our prayer life grows  Same as reading God’s word.

 

God has lavished on us his riches but too often we bury them. We worry about how bad our prayer life is but we don’t take time to pray. We are embarrassed about how little time we spend reading God’s word but don’t make time to read God’s word. But let’s also remember that while we might judge ourselves, God does not.

The 3rd servant pronounced his own judgement on himself. Let us not do that to ourselves. St Paul says: God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. God is trustworthy and generous in all he does for us. He doesn’t want us to live in fear of him but as Paul says: put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. Faith, hope and love – the same 3 gifts Paul talk about in Corinthians:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. God’s love

 

So as we look at the world around us let us not live in fear of God or anything but in trust. Trust in God’s love and care for us. Let us live in faith and hope as we live in the love of God knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our  fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. And remember that Jesus is with us until the end of the age and when that end comes we will hear that wonderful invitation: Well done, good and trustworthy servant; enter into the joy of your master.

 

Until that day may the peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen 

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Sermon 8th November 2020 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 25:1-13 – A missed opportunity

Sermon 8th November 2020 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 25:1-13 – A missed opportunity

 

I went to the store last week to purchase something and in big letters – CASH NOT ACCEPTED – must pay by card. I never thought I would see the day when cash was not welcome. Some years ago The Good Guys store would have the slogan – less for cash. And there was always the saying Cash is King. And so our society is going more and more to a cashless society where we pay with credit or debit cards.

 

But there’s another payment method that has been around for some time called Bitcoin. Not sure if you’ve ever heard of that before but it’s a digital currency – Bitcoin. You can’t see it – you can’t hold it – it’s a currency that lives inside your computer. It was introduced around 10 years ago and If you were silly enough to buy One Bitcoin it would cost you about one tenth of a cent. Apparently the first transaction using bitcoin 10 years ago was someone buying two pizzas costing 10,000 bitcoins. That’s how worthless it was. So no one really bothered.

 

But something happened and the price started edging up. 3 years later one bit coin would cost you around $200. So if you had bought 10 bitcoins for 1 cent when they first were released you would have turned that 1 cent into $2,000. Sounds pretty good as an investment. Today, with our move towards a cashless society bitcoin has gone absolutely ballistic and as of writing this one bitcoin now costs around $20,000. So those 10 bitcoins you bought for 1 cent would now be worth $200,000. Can you imagine how the people feel who may have been offered an opportunity back when they first were introduced – even if they just spent $1.00 would be worth $20,000,000. How would you feel having missed that opportunity? At the end of the day it’s only money.

 

What we see in today’s Gospel reading is a story about a group of women who also missed an opportunity but it was a lot more than money at stake. These women were bridesmaids who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. The bridegroom was delayed and so 5 of the bridesmaids ran out of oil for their lamps. They tried to borrow some from the other 5 who had brought extra oil but they were afraid that there wouldn’t be enough to do so. The 5 bridesmaids go to the marketplace to purchase more oil for their lamps. But while they were out the bridegroom came and he and the 5 bridesmaids who brought spare oil went in to the wedding. The other 5 arrived back but it was too late and the bridegroom wouldn’t open the door for them and they missed out.

 

Now this parable spoken by Jesus is Jesus way of preparing us for his Kingdom. And he does not want anyone to miss out because he has personally prepared a special and unique place for us. One of the hardest things for me, and I know many other Christians, is to understand – if God wants everyone to live with him in Heaven – why do some miss out? If it is God’s will for everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – then why does our teaching believe that some may not be saved? It is something I struggle with and I know you most likely do to. But, we cannot deny that the Bible, and Jesus himself, does warn that this is the reality.  Hear again the closing of our Gospel reading: The door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor he hour.” I don’t know why -  so as a Pastor I believe it is my role to proclaim what I DO know. And what I do know is that God loves the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. That’s what I do know.

 

So as a Pastor I preach the Gospel to assure you that through Jesus we are awake; We are assured of eternal life and there is absolutely NO uncertainty of our salvation – of our eternal life in Heaven. And it is that assurance that has gotten me through some difficult times including these past 7 months where we have not been able to gather together and to receive Holy Communion. St Paul also talks about how hope gets us through those difficult periods in life.

In our 2nd reading he says; We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. What is that hope? For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. The difference, as St Paul says is hope:

So that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

And it is not just in death that the Christian faith brings hope – but in every difficult situation as he had said in his letter to the Romans: We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 

What happens in our Gospel reading is sad but it should not frighten us. Remember what Jesus himself says: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. As Christians we are called upon to pray for those who do not yet know the love of God in Christ or who have rejected it so that they may have the same comfort that we have. And that is what has always brought me comfort for those of my friends and family who are not Christians. If it is God’s will for all to be saved – and if it is my prayer for all to be saved – then my hope is in Jesus promise in John 14: I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. And even if we think of Jesus own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where he concludes his prayer: Not my will be done but yours – what great comfort that brings when we know that it is God’s will that all be saved.

 

We need to keep remembering that God is a God of love and how comforting to know that as we journey to our heavenly home that God has assured us of our salvation. I’m sure we’d all love to be there now but like the Gospel reading says – the bridegroom has been delayed. And St Peter tells us why he has been delayed: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. God wants everyone to be saved – he wants no one to perish. So as Paul says at the conclusion of our 2nd reading: Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 

We all have friends, family, colleagues that we would love to share the Gospel with and that’s not always easy. But God has assured us, that like us, it is his will that all be saved and to come into a relationship with him. We don’t always know how or when God works but we know he will. And that is our hope and our hope in Christ will never disappoint us. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

Sermon 1st November 2020 – All Saints Day Text Revelation 7:9-17 – Worship in eternity

 Sermon 1st November 2020 – All Saints Day

Text Revelation 7:9-17 – Worship in eternity

 Today we commemorate All Saints Day. A day when we acknowledge to God our thanks for the life that he gives and for the life that he gathers into his presence.  It’s hard to know what term to use.

Some people don’t like the term death or dying because it’s so harsh. Others don’t like the term “passing away” because it softens death too much and doesn’t recognise the reality. Others have used terms such as “passing over” seeing death as a doorway from this life into eternity. I used the term “gathered into God’s presence” to signify what death actually is; And the reason I used that term is because Jesus also uses that term to describe what happens. In John 14 he says to the disciples in preparing them for his impending death and their subsequent death: “Do not let your heart be troubled. You have put your trust in God, put your trust in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you.? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 So here Jesus describes our death as him coming to take us to be with him where he is. And what a place that will be as we hear in our reading from the Book of Revelation where St John was given a glimpse of the heavenly worship that is happening now as we speak. John was shown a vision of the presence of God and the heavenly worship that surrounds him. And this is so comforting for us in our grief knowing that the ones that we love are with us because of their and our participation in worship. In our creed we confess that we believe in the communion of saints. In our Holy Communion liturgy we proclaim that we gather with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And so whether we have gathered in our churches – or gathered before our TV or computer screens to participate in worship – this has been no trivial thing we have been doing.

 It has been a participation in the heavenly worship which John saw in his vision. And they were not limited to 10 or 20 or 50. They were not restricted to 1 per 4 square metres. Here was a great multitude that no one could count, And there were no border restrictions. No, here were worshippers from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. This is the house of worship that Jesus has prepared for us – the house that has many rooms and no restrictions – no household bubbles because we are all one family as John reminded us in our 2nd reading: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

 The death of a loved one is heartbreaking. But Jesus, in John 14 wants us to trust him: And so he says: “Do not let your heart be troubled. You have put your trust in God, put your trust in Me. And the trust Jesus wants us to have is in when he says: I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

As we look at our Gospel reading it is God’s intention to use heaven as our comfort from the difficulties we go through in this life. This life has not ended up what God truly wants for us because of sin. Sin opened the door in this life to evil as our eyes have been opened to good and evil in a world that God had originally created as very good. And so that opening of our eyes has seen a variety of sad experiences which culminate into death into which God brings comfort:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

There is no sugar coating death. It is raw – it is devastating – and to say anything that downplays the hurt would be offensive. Even Jesus wept at the death of his dear friend Lazarus. Jesus cried out in distress at his own impending death – take this cup from me. So in no way do we downplay the seriousness of the death of a loved on. But death is the passing from this life into eternal life in heaven. It is Jesus fulfilling his promise to take us to be with him where he is because THAT is what God wants for us which John saw in Revelation 21: Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 The final thing we need to remember is that even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, our life here on earth cannot be compared to what God has prepared for us in Heaven. When God completed his work of creation he saw all that he had created and declared it to be very good. Eternal life is not going to be very good – it’s is going to be perfect. No words can describe the experience that awaits us as Paul discovered in 2 Corinthians when he says he was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

 As difficult as it is to grieve the loss of a loved one – as difficult as it is to live each and every moment without them in our life – God has promised – blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted and that every   tear will be wiped away from our eyes by God himself. And the comforting assurance that there will be no more death in the home that Jesus has prepared for us. I know that my words of assurance to you who are grieving are just words. But God’s words to us are not just words. They are promises. And they are promises from God who is trusted as Jesus says – trust God – trust in Jesus.

 Until we are in heaven we will sadly see death from an earthly perspective but John reminds us that the reality is hidden He says: Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.

And as Paul says to the Colossians: your life is now hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Friends, let me finish this All Saints Day with Jesus promise again to us – words that he spoke to his disciples to prepare them for his own death: Don’t let your hearts be trouble – trust in God – trust also in me, Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Sermon 25th October 2020 – Reformation Sunday Text: John 8:31-36 – Freedom

 Sermon 25th October 2020 – Reformation Sunday

Text: John 8:31-36 – Freedom

 

I’m sure many of us were glued to our TV screens last Sunday and scouring the news to see the list of freedoms that we were granted as we slowly began our relief from stage 4 lockdown. For many it was the freedom they were looking for – but for others it still seems as if they are locked down and have to wait a little bit longer. Freedom.

 

That has been the focus in all this time of pandemic. When do we get our freedoms back? Freedom is important and it was for freedom that Luther fought extremely hard to bring about the Reformation because he had seen that we had lost our freedom as children of God and sadly it was his own church that was responsible. Luther brought about a reformation in his church because he believed that the church had failed in the message that Christ had sent them to proclaim.

 

If we think back to Easter when Jesus came to the frightened disciples locked away in fear of their lives – he proclaimed firstly their freedom – peace be with you. They had been in lockdown – in fear. Once freed from their lockdown in fear,  Jesus sent them to proclaim freedom to everyone – if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them. Or as Jesus said on other occasions – whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.

 

Freedom – that’s the Reformation message today and it comes through loud and clear in our bible readings today: Jesus, similar to Luther, had found that the religious leaders of his time had also strayed from the pure teaching of the Gospel. He says to them: If you hold to MY teaching you are really my disciples – you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Freedom is what we lose when we stray from the Gospel. And when we stray we begin to find ourselves trapped in our sin and guilt. St Paul says we are slaves to sin. And that’s what Jesus came to set us free from as he reminds us in John 3:17 – For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. To free the world through him. And likewise St Paul in our 2nd reading today focuses us on freedom from sin. He says that we are justified freely by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And what Paul highlights is that we keep slipping away from our freedom because sin has a unique way of recapturing us. And it does this by convincing us that the way out of imprisonment to sin is by doing good works. It sounds logical. We do something bad so to offset it we do something good. But that’s the spiral that Luther sunk into.

 

Luther struggled with sin and guilt. So he did more and more to try and undo the mess he was in. But the more good he tried to do – the more he became aware of just how bad he was. And instead of finding freedom from his sin and guilt by doing good – he just found more and more sin and guilt to the point where he even stated that he hated God because God was a tyrant – a dictator. A tyrant who wanted more and more from him and drove him to breaking point where Luther finally discovered that it wasn’t about trying to please God but receiving his grace and mercy through forgiveness. And that’s why Jesus when he sent his disciples into the world instructed them to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins – not obedience to the law. Repentance and forgiveness free us while obedience keeps us trapped and locked away in fear.

That’s why Luther, when he was driven to breaking point at his guilt and sin that was weighing him down cried out “I AM BAPTISED”.

 

Many times Jesus points out that God is not a tyrant: In Matthew 7 he says: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Or the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t bring her comfort by saying she had done nothing wrong but proclaimed her forgiven.

And that’s why King David when writing Psalm 32 says: Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them. He doesn’t say blessed are they who do no wrong. He doesn’t say blessed are they who keep God’s law. No. Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven.

 

God’s relationship with us is about freedom – freedom from guilt and sin. And it is the truth of the Gospel that does that – and the truth sets you free. Jesus says – come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls.

 

But it’s not just sin and guilt that enslave us for which the Gospel brings freedom. The Gospel can also bring comfort from our earthly anxieties as we discover a God who loves and cares for us. There is so much anxiousness in our world created by Covid19 especially amongst those who don’t know God in their life. Even though we take great precautions with sanitising, cleaning, wearing masks, social distancing – there is still a level of anxiety that this pandemic has caused.

A lot of that anxiety can come because of our fear for the future.

 

Worrying about the future is not new – in fact it goes right back to the beginning of time. Adam and Eve had everything they needed.  They had not a care in the world as God provided for their every need. But the devil got into their ear and caused them to worry about the future. He tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit after which their eyes would be open and they would be like God. They would be in control. And isn’t that what causes us to be anxious – when we are not in control of our future. Jesus knew all too well that worrying about the future was part of the human condition because we like to be in control of our destiny. In Matthew chapter 6, verse 34 he says: do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Martin Luther was worried about his future. But not his earthly future but his eternal future. He was worried about what would happen to him after he died and whether he would go to heaven. And it made him very afraid – which is what not knowing the future does to us – whether it’s our future on earth or in the afterlife. Luther wanted to be sure about his eternal future so he worked harder and harder to please God. He deprived himself of any luxuries. He did so much just so he could be sure about his future. And then he discovered that he didn’t need to worry about his future because God has taken care of that through Jesus.

 

God’s love for us is shown through Jesus’ death for us and his death assures us of our eternal future in heaven and that’s what Luther was not hearing from his church. No one knows what our earthly future holds. And it doesn’t matter how successful you are – how much money you have – how popular you are. Our lives can change in an instant. No one knew that this year was going to turn out the way it did. No one was prepared for it. And that’s why Jesus said – don’t worry about tomorrow. Seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be taken care of by God.

 

I know that God is in control of what’s happening even if it doesn’t look like it. Our church doors are still closed but I still believe God has a purpose in all this. God made a very special promise to us in Jesus. As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven after defeating death by rising on Easter Sunday he said to his disciples – and to us – I am with you always until the end of time. A promise that comes to us in our Baptism.

 

So if you are anxious about the future – just remember that Jesus already knows your future and he has taken care of the most important part of your future- your eternal life in Heaven. So do not worry about tomorrow but let Jesus, who is the beginning and the end – the  same yesterday, today and forever – let him take care of all your concerns as you put your faith and trust in him.

 

Monday, 12 October 2020

Sermon 18th October 2020 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 22:15-22 – The Image of God

 

Sermon 18th October 2020 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 22:15-22 – The Image of God

As we get further and further into this period of lockdown and closed churches, I keep thinking of the incident in Acts 5 where the Apostle Peter was ordered by the governing rulers to stop preaching the Gospel. In response Peter says - "We must obey God rather than human beings! And he goes on and keeps preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I keep asking myself whether we are in that situation. At what point do we, as church, say that we are being denied the right to freedom of worship and that we must obey God rather than human authority. Have you wondered that? Have we given up too easy – too readily?

Well, Jesus was confronted with a similar dilemma today. The story going around was that Jesus was leading an anti-Roman militia aiming to topple the Roman rule and re-establish the Jewish nation under a Davidic Kingship. In other words, re-establishing King David’s throne and rule of Israel rather than Roman rule. And therefore the word had gotten around that Jesus was teaching that it was wrong to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor when the money should be going to God and re-establishing the Temple. So, this time, they really think that they have Jesus in the same way that the FBI were able to get gangster Al Capone not on the charges that they wanted him on but on tax evasion. So they put the question to Jesus - Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

First of all, Jesus knows this is an attempt to trap him.  As Matthew says: Jesus was aware of their malice. But I think his answer is the answer which applies to what we are going through at present: Jesus says: Show me the coin used for the tax.” When they showed him the coin he said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose title on the coin?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” At no time does Jesus say that part of his manifesto was for an uprising or rebellion. In fact Jesus resisted any attempts by the people to make him king and even rebuked Peter for resisting arrest when he pulls out his sword and cuts off the ear of one of Jesus’ attackers when he was being arrested.

The example Jesus uses is interesting. He gets the people to look at a coin and the image that is imprinted on it. Like our currency, it bears the image of the governing ruler. In their case – the emperor. In our case – the queen. And he says – because the money bears the image of the emperor he says – give to the emperor what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to God. So ownership is determined by image. Their currency bears the emperors image. So we have to ask – what belongs to God. Where is God’s image imprinted?

Well, as we go back to the very beginning of the Bible we read where God has placed his image: Let us create human beings in our own image – in the image of God he created them – male and female he created them. As Christians we must always remember that we belong to God.

No matter what rule we live under – not matter what laws are ruling over us – we belong to God. And no one can take that away from us.

When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate about submitting to his authority, Jesus doesn’t deny his authority: Pilate said. Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus doesn’t deny his authority but says, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.

As Christians we are called to reflect the image of God that we bear and to imitate Christ who saw his submission to Pilate as submission to God. St Peter talks at length about suffering as an example and witness to Christ. Not overcoming suffering but enduring suffering. He says: But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.

And he also says: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

None of us like what is happening to the church but it’s a question of how do we respond. What is it that will bring glory to God? Well, again, St Peter says: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

We are not the first generation to suffer because of our faith. And part of our faith is trusting in God’s deliverance. St Paul, in our 2nd reading today urges us, as ones who bear the Image of God to imitate God: He says: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers.

What example are we showing? Just look again at the fruits of the Spirit which are how we can example imitating Christ and God’s image: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, & Self-Control. These are challenging qualities to reflect in time like these but these are the qualities that Jesus says have been imprinted on us as the Image of God.

These are fruits which means that they come from being filled with the Holy Spirit. A lemon tree doesn’t produce apples – so a Christian  doesn’t produce hate or anger or lack of control. Likewise, a lemon tree that doesn’t produce fruit is just a tree. Our lives are to act like mirrors to reflect God’s presence in the world.

So a constant question we ask ourselves is what image are we reflecting? The image of God? Or our own image? The situation with our churches is extremely challenging. I have cried out to God – why have you abandoned me? I have cried out – take this cup from me. I’m not suggesting in any way that our suffering mirrors Christ’s suffering but Jesus has given us the example of walking the way of the cross. Peter wanted to avoid that – never Lord – this will never happen to you. Jesus rebuked Peter because in his attempt at honouring God by rebelling he was actually bringing dishonour to God. He is told that he does not have in mind the things of God but of man. Even though he really thought he was honouring God by rebelling against an injustice to his Lord Jesus – he was not allowing God to do his will. Which is why Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane says – take this cup from me – but not my will be done but your will be done.

I’ve said it before – I want our churches opened more than anyone. I am really struggling not being able to serve you with the Sacrament and having you here gathered for worship. But I truly believe that God is in control – we must believe that. And God’s will WILL be done. And God’s glory will be revealed. Look at the result Jesus got today when he upheld the authority even though the people felt that the taxes were unfair: They were amazed; and they left him and went away.

It might seem at times like we are weak and simply rolling over to the church closures. Maybe at times it seems like we are being disrespectful to God because we ae not fighting back against the closures. But the greater witness comes by imitating the humility of Christ and allowing God to bring about his will. And if, as part of God’s will, an injustice has been done to us then God’s justice is more satisfying and fulfilling. And if we allow God’s will to be fulfilled  in all this then we can be sure of a stronger and more faith-filled church. Maybe this is how God awakens his church and Christians. Maybe this is the new song that the Psalmist speaks about in our Psalm today.

But it means trusting God. It means giving to God what is God’s – as St Paul urges - to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. We are not in the situation Peter found himself in Acts. Our worship may be redefined but not forbidden. What is being challenged is the peripheral and not the core. We will be back worshipping together. We will be back receiving the body and blood of Christ. Until then God stay strong in your faith – stay strong in your prayer life and be assured that God is with us for he is Emmanuel – God with us.