Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Sermon 26th January 2020 – Third Sunday after Epiphany Text: Matthew 4:12-23 – New beginnings (Lay Reading)

Lay Reading 26th January 2020 – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Matthew 4:12-23 – New beginnings

Today is January 26th and we are just over three weeks into 2020.
Did you make any resolutions this year? If you did, how are they holding up?
New Year’s resolutions can be big or small. Do any of these sound familiar?
This year, I will eat less, drink less, exercise more.
This year, I will put down my phone and pay more attention to the people around me.
This year, I will find a place to volunteer and make a difference in the world.
Making a New Year’s resolution can be similar to expressing repentance. We make New Year’s resolutions because we recognize our ongoing need for making a changing in our life.
Repentance is acknowledging we need to make a change in our life for God’s Kingdom.
We know that we aren’t living up to the full potential God is calling us to.
We are sorry for falling short, and we promise to do better in the future.
New Year’s Resolution – Repentance – very similar.
Now that three weeks have passed, we may already have to repent for not living up to the resolutions we made. But that’s okay: God always accepts our repentance. And that’s why we continue to turn toward God. God will always be there to welcome us back.
There’s more to repentance than personal conversion, however. Being sorry and promising to be better is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. In fact, the “being sorry” part of repentance really isn’t going to help you change your ways until you get an idea of what that the bigger picture is.
Repentance is about a new beginning.
The Bible is full of beginnings; in fact it is how the Bible begins – in the beginning God created.
 Thus the human race begins with Adam and Eve, and begins again after the flood with Noah and his family. In old age, Abraham answers the invitation of God to go away from home and begin anew.
The Bible presents us with beginnings over and over again, until at the end a holy city comes down from heaven to earth, and its name is not Jerusalem, but New Jerusalem, for it is a place to begin anew, the start of what will be forever new so there will be no more “beginnings”.
Some of the beginnings in the Bible are known as call stories. A call story recounts how somebody was invited by God to begin something new and unexpected.
One day Andrew and Simon, James and John get up to start the beginning of their work day. They walk down to the sea, and cast nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It is a day like so many other days. Nothing special. These men have engaged in this same beginning of the day hundreds of times before. This is what they do, for they are fishermen.
Amid familiar water and nets and fresh fish, rough wood of boats, rhythmic motion of waves, in the midst of this familiarity, for these four men, a beginning takes place.
Jesus turns up at the waterside. Have they met him before, heard about him? It does not matter. Today, as he calls them, a beginning takes place. He glances at these working men with their nets and their hard-won catch, and announces a new beginning for them:
"Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." The four hear this and follow.
Like every other call story in the Bible, this one is an adventure. Other rabbis and teachers wait for disciples to come to them. This Rabbi Jesus goes out and finds his own. He looks, not among the likely candidates, the best and the brightest, but down at the docks, where he interrupts fishermen at their work.
An adventure is something that comes to us, that chooses us. Discipleship is the great adventure, for the one who comes to us and chooses us is great beyond all measure. We are taken away from predictable lives, plunged into adventure.
Are these four men - Andrew, Simon, James, and John  - ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them, that chooses them for a new beginning, this adventure of a new beginning in discipleship?
Jesus at the waterside does not collect resumes; he does not check references. The personal histories of these four do not determine their futures. Christ's call means a new beginning. He takes a wide-open risk by inviting them. They do the same in their response.
Subsequent events do not demonstrate that they are particularly fit for their call. Simon, who will come to be known as Peter, betrays Jesus in an even more boldfaced way than all the rest. James and John, nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, not the most agreeable pair to have around, indulge in dreams about their own glory wondering who will sit at his right and on his left, missing the point completely when Jesus announces that being least is the path to greatness in his kingdom.
Andrew rarely appears again on the radar. Maybe his flaw is playing it safe. Yet Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them to share in his adventure, and to be partners with Jesus in what they finally become.
In the call to discipleship of these four fishermen they leave behind their familiar world.
The beginning  of their discipleship with Jesus is the end of their former safety.
They leave behind old securities: the waterside, the boat, the nets, those days of fishing that gave them their identity.
And even old Zebedee, the father of James and John, stands astonished in the boat as his two sons suddenly walk away. The new beginning requires that they must walk away into the new future.
They may be afraid, but not so afraid that their faith does not lead them forward.
The Bible tells us of this beginning for the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they claim no knowledge. It truly is a new beginning.
In the same way, our discipleship means a new beginning, one that appears before us again and again. We keep experiencing the end of safety so that we may participate in a new world. We find ourselves engaged in an adventure, for however strangely, however unfamiliar, Christ comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to be the next new beginning in the world.
In our Gospel today, Jesus announces the new beginning of his ministry with the words, “Repent! For the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
And Jesus is calling us to join in this work of new beginnings. His invitation today is: Follow me. It is up to us to build God’s Kingdom and bring a new beginning into this world. It is an adventure because a new beginning means we don’t always know what happens next. But we know that as disciples of Jesus that he leads the way – we follow him – and he promises “I am with you always till the end of the age”.
The peace of God that surpasses all our understanding keep your hearts and minds forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon 19th January 2020 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Text: John 1:29-42 – Receiving the call from Jesus (Lay Reading )

Lay Reading 19th January 2020 – 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Text: John 1:29-42 – Receiving the call from Jesus

Today’s theme that can be found in all four of our readings is the theme of being called.
The readings from Isaiah and from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians both begin with words about being called, about being set apart by God.
Isaiah says: The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
Paul says: called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.
This fits right in with today’s section of John’s gospel, in which we hear his account of what is usually called “The Call of the First Disciples.”
John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Two of John’s disciples hear this and decide to check out Jesus for themselves.
They end up abandoning John and going off with Jesus instead. It’s this call, the call of these first two disciples, that is the one we need to pay special attention to if we want to understand what it’s usually like to be called by God.
To follow Jesus is a major life decision. Discipleship requires dedication, work, and sacrifice.
For most of us, making a major life decision is a thoughtful process. We need time to do research, to consult experts, to ask the opinion of friends. We may read product reviews before buying a car, or even a toaster. When facing surgery, even minor surgery, surgeons are very careful to make sure you’re aware of any complications – or when prescribing medication you’re advised of the many side effects even if they are very rare. Sometimes you’re advised to get a 2nd opinion.
So we carefully sort out the options, search for information online or in books, and begin to compile a list of pros and cons. What are the benefits, and what is the cost? We have all done this at one time or another. We especially take care when deciding a major decision - To buy a house, or take a new job, or move across town or even overseas.
Making informed decisions is a worthy task as it helps us avoid making mistakes, making a bad situation worse, or facing massive consequences of a poor choice. Maybe this is one of the reasons why Christianity appears to be in decline. Maybe people are afraid of what the cost of discipleship might be because it’s not immediately evident.
If we choose to become a disciple of Jesus, then what will be expected of us?
Will we be expected to work harder than we ever imagined, to give more than we thought possible, and to surrender our need for control to serve God’s will.
That uncertainty frightens people.
And what do we get in return? If we are doing a “for and against” list – what are the benefits of being a Christian.
On the face of it we might appear to get nothing - at least nothing the world would consider as a benefit. Just more work, more need requiring us to give money, and more criticisms from our friends and family. That’s because the gift of God’s grace is free, and offered to everyone without condition. There’s nothing anyone can do to earn it, deserve it, or be excluded from it.
And in our world where we want to see reward for working hard, this just does not seem like the kind of situation to which we are rewarded physically for all the work and sacrifices we make.
In our world we are more familiar with -first I give this, and I then get that in exchange. This is how it is supposed to work.
But the gifts of God’s mercy, love, and grace are just not like that. They are ours, freely given, without condition. So, if we choose to become disciples of Jesus, and to give our time, talent, and treasure, what do we get for all our trouble?
Just as Jesus said to the disciples - Come and see.
The values that Jesus puts forth in his gospel do not really make any sense in the system in which the world assesses worth. You really have to immerse yourself in the mystery before you can even begin to understand.
The world cherishes wealth. The world esteems power. The world treasures control. But the gospel calls us to love the poor and serve the needy, without condition. And the gospel compels us to surrender our craving for power and give up our need for control. And what are the potential consequences of that?
Come and see.
The Saviour of the world, you see, is also the one that the bible reveals is a man of sorrows, someone acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by his fellow country people.
That really doesn’t sound like someone destined for success or greatness, does it?
The Christian life can be full of questions and confusion, those seeming contradictions that can reveal a deeper spiritual reality. Paradoxes such as: gaining our life by losing our life, enjoying true abundance by giving away our possessions, and becoming followers of the all-powerful one who emptied himself of power.
To really understand Jesus and the blessings he gives you, you really need to come and see for yourself in order to understand or even begin to understand.
Without truly understanding what is happening in worship can seem like it’s just an empty ritual. So come and see – come and experience being served by God. Come and be blessed by God. Without an understanding of God wanting to serve us it might seem that being a disciple of Jesus is nothing more than endless demands from God.
Jesus invitation to us is - Come and see. Jesus offers us a different way of life through personal sacrifice. If we simply want to follow what the world offers then our lives can become meaningless, focused more on the accumulation of material goods than on sharing the love that comes from God.
So come and see the Lamb of God, on whom the Spirit descended like a dove, the Son of God.
Come and see Jesus who leads us along the way of salvation.
Come and see Andrew and Simon Peter, who drop their nets and leave behind everything to follow Jesus.
The invitation was offered to those disciples so many years ago who did not know Jesus at all and did not know where Jesus invitation would lead them.
And it is offered to us again today. Come and see and be enriched in Christ in every possible way. Come and see and learn again that God is faithful, and that you are called into fellowship with God through God’s son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Come and see so that you too can declare with confidence, We have found the Messiah.
The peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep your hearts and mind forever in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon 12th January 2020 Text Matthew 3:13-17 – The Baptism of Jesus Baptism - The First Step (Lay Reading)

Lay Reading Sermon 12th January 2020 – The Baptism of Jesus
Baptism - The First Step                      Matthew 3:13-17

We don’t think about it much, but for most of us, one thing that brings us to church on Sunday is the fact that we are baptized.
Some of us were baptized without being given any choice in the matter.
Despite the seeming cries of disapproval at the baptismal font that we sometimes hear the baptism still went ahead.
Some were baptized at an older age and may even have begun receiving Holy Communion on the same day.
Some have not yet been baptized.
Some haven’t been baptized, but are considering it.
Baptism may come at various stages in life but its meaning remains the same.
Baptised into God’s family as loved children of God.
Those who were baptised as infants learn the meaning of their baptism after the fact undergoing instruction in the home and church through worship, Sunday School and Confirmation.
None fully knew what was happening on the day they were baptized as infants.
Years later, as we make our way slowly learning about the Christian faith, the purpose begins to unfold.
We discover what our baptisms mean after the event rather than before and then have the opportunity to “Confirm” our Baptism faith in a Rite of Confirmation.
That’s how it was for Jesus too, at least in Matthew’s Gospel.
The story moves from Jesus as an infant to Jesus as a thirty-year-old, and there’s not a lot of information as to what happened in between.
One day Jesus puts down his hammer, takes off his tool belt, hangs a “Closed” sign on the door of the carpenter’s shop, and asks, “What does God want of me?”
Jesus heads out and finds his cousin John, standing in the muddy Jordan in his camel-hair baptismal robe, smelling of locusts and honey.
Jesus gets in line and waits his turn.
He wades out into the water, right next to real live sinners like you and me.
While three Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ baptism, only Matthew records the curious conversation prior to the baptism.
Jesus is eager to be baptized, but John hesitates.
John insists that Jesus has his teaching on baptism wrong.
They stand together in the river and engage in a serious theological debate concerning who should baptize whom.
The first time Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel, it is to say that he needs to be baptized, because baptism will prepare him for the ministry God has planned for him..
Jesus seeks Baptism from John because he believes that God is calling him to a new life.
When Jesus stands up, the waters of the Jordan dripping down his face, he sees the Holy Spirit descending like a dove to rest upon him.
The Spirit comes, not as an all-consuming fire of judgment, but with the flutter of hope-filled wings.
A voice says: “You are my Son. I love you. I’m delighted with you.”
Then Jesus goes into the desert for forty days to contemplate on what it means to be a child of God.
Jesus spends all the days and years that follow that afternoon in the Jordan discovering the meaning of his baptism.
Jesus gives everything to God his Father —his dreams and deeds, his labors and his very life.
Jesus gives himself to God’s people and takes his place with hurting people.
Baptism was Jesus’ commissioning to ministry.
During the week before his death, the leaders of the temple challenge Jesus:
“By what authority are you doing these things?” (Matthew 21:23).
Jesus answers with a reference to his baptism:
“Was the baptism of John from heaven or not?
In the waters of baptism, Jesus heard the Spirit calling him to speak the truth and live under his Father’s grace.
So Jesus doesn’t die of old age.
He dies because he takes his baptism seriously.
Which is why St. Paul, when referring to our baptism says it is a baptism into Christ’s death.
When Jesus cries out on the cross, “It is finished,” it is his baptism that is complete.
Baptisms, like many important beginnings, find meaning after the event.
Baptism is an “all of life” event so we are continually learning what our Baptism means to us..
Baptism is the beginning of our life with God – not the end.
In our baptism we’re handed a life map, but then we take the journey.
Without a journey, a map is just a piece of paper.
The journey brings life to the map.
Our baptism is more than just a baptism certificate to say we were baptised.
It takes our whole life to finish the journey we begin when we’re baptized.
Which is why Jesus says in the Baptism text at the end of Matthew’s gospel:
I am with you always till the end of the age – until the end of your baptismal journey.
So what does it mean for us to live out our baptisms?
If we are true to our baptisms, then our lives will not always be comfortable.
We cannot do only what makes us feel comfortable, and we won’t be satisfied with the way things are.
Our baptism will mean that we will struggle with the tension between what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s important and what’s not.
The baptised children of God tell the truth in a world that lies,
The baptised children of God give in a world that takes,
The baptised children of God love in a world that lusts,
The baptised children of God make peace in a world that fights,
The baptised children of God serve in a world that demands to be served,
The baptised children of God pray in a world that waits to be entertained,
The baptized are citizens of a different kind of community where success is not the goal,
A community where our own self interest is not the highest good.
Baptism is our commission to ministry – a ministry to God and our neighbour.
Baptism is our vow to live with more concern for the hurting than for our own comfort,
Baptism is our promise to be prepared to challenge ideas which are contrary to the Word of God even if everyone else disagrees with us.
It means we won’t do things just because everyone else is doing it or because it’s the way we’ve always done something.
Baptism is a commitment to share our time with the poor and listen to the lonely.
What did it mean when you were baptized?
The meaning of your baptism is seen in what you think, feel, and do this day.
Your baptism is not an historical event.
It is a daily event of our life.
You “are” baptised – not you “were” baptised.
We are called to forever answer the question
“Why am I baptized?”
Baptism is not just something we do.
Baptism is something that we are – children of God and loved by God.
Baptism is the beginning steps of our mission in life.
And as we look at Jesus’ life we can see that it was the turning point of his life.
It wasn’t always easy for Jesus after his baptism but he had the assurance of his Father’s love and presence with him through the Holy Spirit.
That is God’s promise to us also.
That through our Baptism we have the right to become children of God.
That through our Baptism we have the right to call God our Father.
That through our Baptism we have the assurance that the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ presence are with us till the end of the age.
In his catechism Luther said that when we wake we should make the sign of the cross on ourselves to remind us of our Baptism at the beginning of our day and the beginning of our life.
He also said when we go to bed at night that we should also make the sign of the cross as a reminder of God’s care throughout the day and all our life.
So may you see your baptism as something precious and to be valued.
Baptism forms our identity as those who are known by God. 
We are adopted as God’s own children. 
This is the meaning of being Baptised;
Putting on this new family name that guarantees our place in the family of God.
And may the peace of God that surpasses our understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, forever. Amen.

Sermon 5th January 2020 – The Epiphany Text: Matthew 2:1-12 – God’s Epiphany Mission to the Nations

Sermon 5th January 2020 – The Epiphany
Text: Matthew 2:1-12 – God’s Epiphany Mission to the Nations

You often hear about difficulties growing up as a middle child.
As a middle child myself I can affirm that at times it wasn’t easy.
When my older brother bullied me and I complained, my parents said to not be so sensitive and to get on with my brother.
When I used to get into conflicts with my younger sister I was punished.
My brother, being the first born had that prestige.
My sister as the baby of the family got a lot of attention.
Today we celebrate the Epiphany which I always consider is like the middle child sitting between the 2 major celebrations in the church of Christmas and Easter.
Epiphany is often missed because it falls on a particular date – January 6th -  and therefore not always falling on a Sunday.
So that means churches have an option of recognising the 2nd Sunday after Christmas or the Epiphany.
Epiphany is also sometimes missed because it gets relegated to the Christmas nativity where the 3 wise men with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are simply part of the shepherds and animals gathering around the manger.
Some traditions actually refer to January 6th as Little Christmas or Old Christmas – a day that some Christian traditions still celebrate Christmas.
So what is the importance of the Epiphany?
Why is it written as a central part of Matthew’s Gospel surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ?
“Epiphany” means manifestation, revealing or showing.
What is being revealed? –
The revelation is of Christ’s kingdom coming to people who were previously known as pagans – in other words - to the entire world – to those previously considered to be rejected in regards to God’s saving plan.
These rejected people are symbolized by the “magi from the east” coming in search of the “newborn king of the Jews.”
The Magi were not Jews – they were outsiders.
They represent the work of Jesus spreading God’s love into a universal kingdom.
And the result of the magi’s coming has now occurred – people throughout the world have expressed faith in Christ and become his followers through the Christian Church.
The Epiphany is about God’s outreach mission to all people.
The magi highlight how God’s revelation – God’s love - is made known to all people and not just a selected few.
And what’s interesting is that Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that records this event.
And what’s further interesting is that Matthew’s Gospel begins and ends with Jesus being revealed to all the nations of the world.
The last chapter of Matthew gives us what is known as the Great Commission – the sending of God’s people into all the world to complete this work of Epiphany:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of  the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The Epiphany highlights God’s extraordinary mission to reach out to every single person in every single nation.
In fact Matthew says that this is so important that Jesus will not return until it has been done:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
But it also highlights God’s work in this in that he does not leave us to do it alone because God is the one who initiates mission.
This is seen in that the Magi are led to Jesus.
It was by the bright shining star that they are led.
And when the star disappeared they are still led by God as they refer to God’s word through the prophet Micah for further directions.
And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
And once back on track the star reappears to the magi.
And when they leave they are again guided by an angel who sends them on a different road home to keep them safe from Herod.
In all this, God is central in leading and guiding.
So in our mission work God is central – God is the initiator and will lead us.
We need to be ready for the signs like the Magi were.
The signs are all around us but sometimes we don’t see them clearly because of all the distractions guiding us in different directions.
That’s where God’s Word comes in to play as it did for the magi.
They just needed to refocus.
And that’s the direction for us too.
We need to keep near to God’s word whether it’s through our Bibles, through our prayers, through our worship – to keep listening to God.
Because life and all its demands can un-focus us from our mission to go into the world with God’s Gospel of love.
And we also have the assurance of God’s presence and protection with us.
The Magi were protected from Herod’s evil plan to destroy the work of Jesus.
They were warned and guided home on a safe path.
And Jesus repeated that assurance in the Great Commission when he said – Go to all nations – and I will be with you always till the end of the age.
In this account of the Epiphany the central theme is listening to God.
The Magi listened to God when he sent a star to guide them.
The Magi listened to God when he spoke to them through his Word in the Prophet Micah.
The Magi listened to God who spoke to them in a dream to go home via a different route.
Mary and Joseph listened to God when he warned them to flee to Egypt with their baby Jesus.
And central in all of this is that God is speaking.
And this is still the case today – God is speaking.
God is speaking to us constantly but are we listening?
To listen we need to be aware that God is speaking – and that’s the difficult part of our mission because there are so many voices speaking to us.
So many things guiding us on different directions away from God.
The Epiphany also shows us that our mission work does not go without opposition.
Herod was frightened and furious and was prepared to do anything to stop the message of Jesus Christ going out into the world – even sacrificing innocent children in the hope that one of them might be Jesus.
Mary and Joseph had to flee – the Magi had to flee – and sometimes we too are faced with choices that take us away from our places that have been our places of comfort.
Matthew also reveals Jesus’ understanding of the sacrifices that we sometimes make for the sake of the Gospel when Peter says:
“We have left everything to follow you!
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you … everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
January 6th, the Day of the Epiphany officially ends the Christmas season in the church – the 12 days of Christmas.
The day when God sent his Son to dwell with us.
And now he sends his children – his sons and daughters – you and me – to continue the Christmas message – that God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
He sends us out to be the guiding star to lead people to Jesus with the promise that he is Immanuel – God with us – a promise confirmed in our Baptism and in the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Monday, 23 December 2019

Sermon 29th December 2019 – 1st Sunday after Christmas Text - Matthew 2:13-23 – God’s gift of love (don’t waste it).

Sermon 29th December 2019 – 1st Sunday after Christmas
Text - Matthew 2:13-23 – God’s gift of love (don’t waste it).

The gifts have been received and opened;
The recycling bin is filled with gift wrapping that once made an ordinary gift seem extra special.
Our family and friends have come and returned home.
All that is to come as a reminder of Christmas is the Credit Card statement.
Soon we will start counting down again till next Christmas
The past month has included the busiest days and weeks of the year for many of us.
It is no wonder if we feel tired today and maybe there is a sense of relief that it is all over for another year – and a bonus, it’s a leap year next year so we get an extra day’s relief.
It has been a hectic couple of weeks but slowly our lives will return to normal, as we settle back into our regular routines.
We have celebrated Jesus’ birth which is always a special time despite the stress and pressure of trying to get everything done in time.
Christmas is special because it reminds us that God has not forgotten about us and never will.
Jesus is God’s gift to each one of us – Immanuel – God with us.
But what will we do with that gift?
We have 3 options:
First                 Add it to the pile of gifts
We seem to live in a time when we have everything we need.
With credit cards and ready access to cash, if we want something we go and buy it.
While that’s handy, it makes it very hard to buy things as gifts these days as the people we buy for seem to have everything.
So we either buy them some sort of novelty gift with no real use, or we buy them a gift card from the many hundreds of places that offer them.
In fact when you go to Coles or Woolworths they have all the companies available.
You just pick the one you want and take it to the checkout so you don’t have to go out of  your way to buy one.
This way they can get their own present to the value that you place on the card.
The problem is that many of those gift cards just get put away because we don’t need them straight away – and we forget about them.
That’s often how we treat the gift of Jesus.
We have so much in our lives, do we really value what Jesus brings to our lives.
Do we really need him?
We put him away and forget about him.
We get on with life and just take him out if we need him.
Or we just leave the gift card lying around unused.
A gift card that is not used is just a piece of plastic.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 gift card or a $500 gift card – it’s the same amount of plastic if it’s not used.
Likewise if we don’t use Jesus in our life then he is just as useful as that bit of plastic.
Sometimes when we do actually receive a gift, we don’t really value the gift or use the gift as the giver intended.
If we know the giver of the gift is going to visit, we madly scramble to find their gift and put it on display.
That’s often how we treat God’s gift of Jesus to us.
Bring him out at Christmas and Easter, but for the rest of the year we’ll pack him away.
God gave us Jesus to bring hope and peace and meaning to our lives.
Not just at Christmas, but every day of our life.
Are you using Jesus in your life or is he just lying around unused like many of our bibles?

Second            Return it
Probably the 2nd busiest day in the retail calendar is the day after Christmas.
But it’s not just at the checkout for the Boxing Day Sales but the returns counter.
People who have received a gift that is the wrong size – the wrong colour – or just not wanted.
So too God comes to us at times in ways that we don’t like or expect.
Israel certainly didn’t expect their promised King to come born in a feeding trough in the back shed, born to an unmarried commoner.
And remember John the Baptist a few weeks ago was looking for a refund.
Are you the one or should we be waiting for someone else.
Many today have returned God for a refund.
They have neglected their baptism and confirmation vows.
They have lapsed from worship.
But that is because we expect God to be a certain way.
We were created in God’s image but we try to recreate God in our image.
But that’s exactly what God did at Christmas.
He sent his Son in our image.
Born as we are born.
Living the life we live.
Struggling – experiencing pain and rejection.
All this so we have a God who understands what we go through so he can give us hope.
If anyone should be seeking a refund, maybe it’s God.
But he doesn’t because he loves us.
When you receive a gift, the value is in the love that purchased that gift for you.
If you return it, the gift you receive or the refund you receive don’t have the love.
When we replace Jesus in our lives, we might find something that gives us pleasure but we don’t have the love that Jesus offers.
Jesus may not always be or do what you are looking for, but he loves you more than anyone or anything else can.

Third    Use it
The third option we have is to use the gift given to us.
To cherish it and honour it.
There is no greater joy to the giver of a gift than to see a child’s eyes open wide and the smile beam as the wrapping comes off the gift.
And then to see the child run off and play with the gift.
They may be so excited that they run off without saying thank you.
But you don’t mind.
The smile and enjoyment is the thanks.
Sometimes I forget to say grace before a meal.
Sometimes I go to bed and I am just so tired that I fall asleep during my  prayers or before saying them.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to read a devotion.
But God doesn’t mind.
He understands.
He looks at us with so much joy and pleasure.
He’s not up there like a strict school teacher who is going to slap your hand if you don’t remember to say please or thank you.
He is there to be with you wherever you go and whatever you do.
And he has given to you his Son Jesus to be with you – to support you – to guide you – to use in whatever way you need to use him
To speak with him – to unload your frustrations on him – to just have someone at your side when you need him.
He is Immanuel – God with us.
Jesus is God’s gift to you.
May you receive Jesus with joy and use him for your needs and your enjoyment and share the joy with others.
And unlike other gifts, you can’t break him.
You can’t wear him out.
And wherever you go, he will be with you.
Enjoy God’s special gift to you – Jesus Christ his Son.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Christmas Day Sermon 2019 – Truth is God’s true power.

Christmas Day Sermon – Truth is God’s true power.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
What I found  is special about Christmas is that everything God said would happen happened.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Even before Jesus was born all the Old Testament prophesies pointed to what would happen on that glorious first Christmas Day.
His birth place was prophesied: “But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
The virgin birth and his call were prophesied by Isaiah: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
And there are a myriad more which refer to his life and death – all which came true.
In fact, it is believed that the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, contains over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled through His life, death and resurrection.
(A side note: someone worked out – not sure how accurate it is - 1 person fulfilling 8 prophecies: 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000   -1 person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 chance in 10 to the 157th power 1 person fulfilling 300+ prophecies: Only Jesus!)
So what does this say about Christmas and Jesus’ birth?
If the shepherds believed and found everything that had been told them then we too are to believe that God continues to assure us that everything that he has said about Christmas and Jesus’ birth is true.
And for us the promise is found in the most quoted of bible texts: that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Even though from the outside Jesus’ birth didn’t look overly spectacular – born in humble surroundings – born to commoners – no room in the inn – it doesn’t sound so inspiring.
But, you see, for God it was not about showing external power.
God had done that already with King Saul and King David and King Solomon and the vast armies that they led conquering many nations.
A spectacular temple and powers of his strength earlier against Pharaoh when he devastated Egypt to free Israel from slavery.
God had already shown his powerful might.
But God, through Jesus at Christmas, showed a more powerful and everlasting power.
Jesus birth was about revealing God’s truth – and as Jesus once said – the truth shall set you free.
God cannot lie – no that’s the work of Satan, the father of lies, who when he lies speaks his common language.
God cannot break his promises and convenants.
So God’s truth is God’s true power.
So as we journey through our lifetime we are confronted by many things that shake our foundations.
Fear of the future – fears of climate change – terrorism – economic instability – sickness and disease – death.
But we keep going back to that cornerstone of God’s promises – God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but receive eternal life.
We live in a world where sadly we don’t know what to believe – fake news it has been termed.
Sadly the internet has become the source of truth for so many of our young people – and not so young.
We go to Wikipedia and believe that is 100% accurate – it’s not.
We go to Dr Google when we feel sick and look up our symptoms.
It’s so hard to know whom to trust and what to believe.
Every day we are warned about this scam or that scammer going around.
How many people, despite being warned still end up sending money to people they don’t know because they believed them when they rang or sent an email?
People are becoming less trusting.
But Christmas we can trust.
The promises made by God to us are trustworthy and true.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Christmas is such a special time of year for families and friends getting together – to let go of the pressures of life just for a day or two as we spend time together.
But when Christmas is all over please don’t forget what Christmas means for us.
Christmas is God entering into our time and space.
Just as God walked in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve before sin entered in, now God again walks with us.
God has come to meet us where we are.
We don’t have to reach up to him like the people of Babel whose tower was so small that God had to come down to look at what they were doing.
Christmas is God entering our time and space – Christmas is God entering our lives – Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
And so when Jesus left his disciples to ascend to Heaven he repeated that promise through our Baptism – I am with you always till the end of the age.
Immanuel – God with us.
Don’t let the world or anyone make you doubt the presence and existence of God.
God is with us.
God is for us.
And nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Christmas Eve 2019– Christmas removing fear

Christmas Eve – Christmas removing fear

Even though I have heard the Christmas story many many times, as I’m sure you have – I do wonder what it would be like to have heard it for the very first time – or in fact have lived in the very first Christmas.
If you’ve ever arrived at a motel and find that they’ve double booked your room and there’s nowhere else available – or if you’ve presumed there would be a room available and didn’t book – you could understand how Mary and Joseph would have felt – especially with a pregnant Mary.
Our reading of the Christmas Story makes Jesus being born in a manger sound very romantic.
But if you’ve ever visited a wool shed, like I did when I first started dating Sharon – it’s far from romantic.
Or imagine being Mary and discovering you’re pregnant – and telling people – it’s okay, the child is actually God’s.
Or Joseph finding out that his fiancĂ© is pregnant and it’s not his child.
And trying to tell his friends and family – it’s okay – God is the Father.
We make the story sound so romanticised – so loving and adoring – but that very first Christmas would have been anything but that.
For starters Mary, under the Old Testament law of Moses could have been put to death – not only for being unfaithful to Joseph but for blasphemy saying that she was bearing God’s child.
Sometimes we can miss the powerful message of the Christmas Story as it becomes just a feel good story.
Yes it is an amazing story that is lovely to hear over and over again during Christmas but God is wanting to remind you that at times life can be difficult.
Life can be uncertain.
Life was difficult and uncertain for Mary and Joseph but God reassured them that the child about to be born would be called “Immanuel” – which means God is with us.
And that’s the heart of the Christmas message.
In our lives with all its uncertainties, difficulties and complexities, God is with us.
And on each occasion when angels visited Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds – they began with the words – ‘do not be afraid’.
And that’s the heart of the Christmas message to you today – do not be afraid – for God is bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
And we need to hear that message more than ever today as the message of the world is the opposite;
Be afraid, is what we keep getting told.
Be afraid of climate change.
Be afraid of bushfires.
Be afraid of volcanoes.
Be afraid of droughts.
Be afraid of soaring temperatures.
Be afraid of hackers.
Be afraid – be afraid – be afraid.
But God, today, is telling you  - do not be afraid – for God is bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
And he will be called Immanuel – God with us.
And if God is on our side, who can be against us?
Today, God’s love becomes personal as God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And nothing, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So may God bless you this Christmas as the Christmas Story becomes your story and remove all your fears because God is with us.