Monday, 27 July 2020

Sermon 2nd August 2020 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 14:13-21 – God’s compassion

Sermon 2nd August 2020 – 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 14:13-21 – God’s compassion

 

Our bible reading from Paul today shows just how much sacrifice love is prepared to make. Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was a leading Pharisee before he met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians. He stood in approval at the killing of Stephen, considered to be the first Christian martyr.

And yet, despite this opposition to Jesus, God sends Jesus to him to convert him.

 

Loved by God, Paul was even given a glimpse of heaven as, perhaps, a reward and encouragement because of all the suffering he underwent for the Christian faith. In fact Paul said that all the glory and honour that he had as a leading Pharisee he considers as rubbish compared to knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. Paul’s love for Christ was immense from that first moment Jesus revealed himself to him. But he never lost his love for his fellow Jews and today he shows just how much he loves them that he is prepared to sacrifice his own eternal salvation for the sake of his fellow Jews if it could guarantee their own salvation. It is a similar love that would see a parent take the suffering of a child if it meant the child’s suffering would end. It is that love that saw Paul never give up even though his fellow Jews persecuted him – even when he was whipped, stoned, faced hunger and shipwrecks and imprisonment. But Paul never gave up his faith – and even more importantly, he never gave up trying to find a way to have his persecutors come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and receive eternal life in Heaven. That’s true love – a love Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians when he said - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

 

This is no ordinary love that Paul speaks about. This is no ordinary love that Paul has for his fellow people.

This love is called – Agape Love. A love that sacrifices for the sake of the one being loved. This is not the love one has for “things”. No, this is the love that we see in God where in John 3:16 it says – for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in  him shall not perish but receive eternal life.

 

So what makes this love different? What drives this love that it doesn’t give up in times of difficulty but seems to go the extra mile instead of giving up? Our Gospel reading gives us the answer of where that love derives.

It says: When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them. That word, compassion, is a fascinating word.

 

Normally when we think of emotions like compassion we clutch our hearts – my heart goes out to them.

But this word, compassion, in its original meaning from the Greek is not an emotion that comes from the heart. It is an emotion that comes from the bowels. Have you ever looked at the world and the condition of the world and you have felt sick in the stomach? That’s the emotion Jesus is showi ng in our gospel reading at the people following him. This is not the first time Jesus has had this compassion. In an almost identical situation in Matthew Chapter 9 it says; Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 

When you see those images on TV of children dying from starvation. When you hear reports of children being exploited and abused. When you see those images of children in detention centres You begin to understand the difference between compassion that comes from the heart and compassion that comes from deep in the bowels. We even use terms of injustice like “it’s a kick in the guts” or “I feel sick to the stomach”. So this compassion that Jesus and Paul display is not an emotion. This compassion that God reveals in his love in John 3:16 is not an emotion. This is a compassion that would make you do anything to stop the injustice – even giving up your own salvation – even giving up your own Son to die for unworthy sinners.

 

This is what needs to be at the heart of our mission, otherwise we will be like the disciples who saw 5,000 men, not counting women and children – so maybe over 10,000 people. And they saw 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and their response to Jesus – send them away. But, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians about agape love - It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

 

So let’s apply this to what we are going through at present. As we look at the Pandemic that is before us today – 16,000,000 infections worldwide– 650,000 deaths worldwide – and in Australia, particularly Melbourne  where I live – we fear turning on the news at 11am to hear the latest figures – fearing whether further  lockdowns will happen – we fear the numbers – like the disciples feared the numbers today.

But let us not allow our fear to take control. But just as the numbers before Jesus today didn’t let fear take control he takes control.  He asks for the bread and fish and looks up to Heaven. He doesn’t look at the food or the massive crowd – he looks to heaven. And that’s where we look too – why? Because, as we heard in our Psalm today –  The Lord is gracious and full of compassion The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works. The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The Lord is near to those who call upon him, to all who call upon him faithfully.

 

In this time of pandemic – let us not be fearful of the numbers but faithful in our trust in God’s compassion.

The numbers are real – the pandemic is real – but God’s love and compassion for his beloved children will not abandon us. Will God who gave up his one and only Son for us out of his love and compassion for us not continue to show is love and compassion to us in this time of need? Jesus wasn’t worried about the numbers today – he looked to his heavenly Father’s compassion. God also wasn’t worried about the numbers when he looked and saw that he only had one Son. He was prepared to give him up for us all because of his compassion and unfailing love.

 

So let us too look up to heaven at this time and call upon God’s love and compassion. And let us remember what Psalm 121 says - I lift up my eyes -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. And let us again be reminded of where Paul was able to gain his strength in times of his own personal struggles: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And that saying continues to hold true for us today. Nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 


Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Sermon 26th July 2020 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 – The Kingdom of Heaven.

Sermon 26th July 2020 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 13:31-33,44-52 – The Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Jesus tells 5 small parables today to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. They each complement each other and also describe a different aspect of God’s Kingdom which we’re going to explore today.

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed - the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

We look at the enormity of the problems that face us and the world – and we look at our resources – our members – our finances – and it is easy to give up. To switch from mission and ministry to maintenance. Instead of looking outward and how we can make an impact in the world we look at our assets and wonder how can we stay open another couple years.

We stop looking for ways to connect with our community and we look for ways to cut costs and look after ourselves. But Jesus shows us today that faith is about reaching out to others for the Kingdom of heaven with even the very little we might have. Size doesn’t matter. Jesus teaches us that faith is about reaching out – like a mustard tree –which doesn’t worry about how small its seed was but stretches out its branches to help other people. So that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. This is what we are here for. We are not a club that exists for our own interests but to share the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

So, he told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” What Jesus is highlighting here is that what we do can have amazing results for the Kingdom of Heaven. A few weeks ago Jesus said if anyone gives a cup of cold water that it has significant results.

Greeting someone with a smile. Welcoming a newcomer to church. Remembering someone’s name. Inviting someone over for meal. These are little gestures but just as only a small amount of yeast can have great results in making bread – the lack of yeast in making bread changes the complete outcome. But the opposite of that is also true. A harsh word to someone at church. Neglecting a visitor or even a regular who hasn’t been to church for a while can see that small unintended neglect work like yeast in their life.

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. This is an interesting parable. A person finds a treasure – hides it – and then buys the field where he hid it. To me it sounds a little bit like my early days as a Christian. I grew up in a family that did not go to church.

When I began to search for the meaning of life and read my Gideon’s Bible that I received in High School, I rang the local Lutheran Churches. I chose Box Hill because they had evening services which meant I could go to a friend’s place in the afternoon and then straight to church without my parents wondering where I was. I was embarrassed and worried I would get teased so I hid my treasure that I had found. If I had gone out for a morning service they might have asked where I was going. I was a little bit afraid of telling them and my work colleagues about going to church. But when I discovered my relationship with God I wanted everyone to know. Even though I hid my treasure at first I then was prepared to give up everything for the faith I had discovered. I did lose friends – I grew distant from my family – and eventually I gave up my successful career to go back to study to become a Pastor. We also need to support those who are new to the faith because they might not be receiving the support from their family and friends and like the Parable of the Sower recently they could find themselves quickly being choked by the persecution and ridicule of those around them. A visitor or an enquirer  who leaves our church without anyone welcoming them or talking to them – who finds our ways of worship strange and confusing – may depart and leave their treasure hidden. We may become their new family and friends and we need to ensure we provide them with that support.

 

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. This parable is similar to the last parable but without the initial hiding of the treasure.

But note the subtle difference: This person didn’t find the treasure, he was looking for it. That difference is easy to miss.

This person is searching for answers in life, just like I was. We live in a society where more and more people are searching for spiritual awakening but sadly they are not coming through our church doors. So many people are saying “I am spiritual but I’m not religious”. Or, I know there’s more to life but I don’t know what it is. Somewhere along the timeline the church lost being the place people come to find spiritual answers and “rest in our braches”. Instead of spiritual awakening they have found religious dogma. Instead of finding spiritual freedom they have found religious traditions that have become rigid and even to a point uncaring. We need to again discover our spiritual treasure so that when people searching for spiritual awakenings come to us that they find what they are searching for. If they find a church that is more focused on getting its traditions and doctrine correct rather than caring and sharing the gospel they will move on. That is not to say doctrine isn’t important – it is. Paul said that to Timothy – watch your doctrine closely. But when it causes division and fighting in the church as we have seen in the past 20 years then how can we expect someone seeking spiritual truth to understand.

Let us become a place where like the mustard tree people can come to find rest for their souls in our branches.

 

And finally: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Here Jesus points out the stark reality of why we have mission – to reach out to people to bring them into the Kingdom of Heaven. I know that not everybody likes to think about death and judgment but here Jesus tells us what is at stake if we don’t seek to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom – that people may miss out. Nobody wants that – especially God. Every person is a person created in God’s image. Every person is a person for whom Jesus died. But what we must remember in this is that the churches task is to spread the Good News. Our task is not to judge evil Jesus says that the angels are tasked with coming and separating the evil from the righteous. And this is only at the end of time like the parable of the weeds – let the wheat and weeds grow together or you may pull out the good wheat with the evil weeds. And the reason is that we cannot search the heart in the same way God does.

 

We judge by what we see and by our own judgments. There are so many things that we disagree with in the world. There are so many things that I disagree with in the world. But judgment belongs to God. Prayer for salvation is what belongs to us. To pray for the world and all people that they may come to a knowledge of God. To pray for the unbeliever not judge them. To pray for repentance of the evil doer not judge them. I don’t know what’s in a person’s heart and what they are going through – the struggles of dealing with an addiction – the guilt and search for repentance from their evil. To judge them may in fact undo the work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing like the wheat and the weeds. Friends we have a priceless treasure that the world is looking for but do they know we have it? Most people don’t know what they are looking for but they know there’s something more to life. Let us value this treasure we have and let it shine so others start to see its glow in us and like a moth to a flame they come to check out what it is we have. As St Peter says – Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,


Monday, 13 July 2020

Sermon 19th July 2020 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost: Text Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 – The time of suffering is short.

Sermon 19th July 2020 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost:

Text Matthew 13:24-30,36-43 – The time of suffering is short.

 

When the pandemic first caused our lockdowns in late March we gathered our strength and knew that soon in the future that this pandemic would all be in the past and we would begin to recover physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and economically. When the restrictions began to ease and we could again have church services under tight restrictions of numbers allowed and cleaning requirements – we were excited and happy to follow the requirements to the letter of the law and even over and above what was required of us.

We looked forward to further easing of restrictions and made plans of increasing our numbers and reintroducing Holy Communion. We rejoiced at those first services seeing familiar faces on the Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoons happy that we were coming together again.

 But then we heard that we were going to delay that further easing by a fortnight because of some fresh outbreaks. But we thought – well we’ve been through 3 months, what’s a couple weeks and at least we can still gather with 20 and plan and prepare during those 2 weeks for larger numbers and Holy Communion.

But then the numbers began to get higher and higher and showed no sign of relenting. And then last week we heard the inevitable – back into stage 3 lockdowns for greater Melbourne for 6 weeks. That news was devastating to say the least. And the feeling of this relapse is worse than the original lockdown that we had to undergo.

 Paul’s description in today’s bible reading sums it up for me:  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. This statement by Paul was written some 2000 years ago and feels so real today with our bodies groaning, physically and spiritually.

You wonder what Paul must have had in mind when he wrote that about the world groaning in pain. The reality is that our world and humanity have groaned under the weight of suffering from the moment evil entered into creation by way of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve ate. There has been famine, disease, droughts, floods, war, crime and a whole host of suffering which has caused creation and humanity to groan – and that’s just in the opening chapters of Genesis.

 

But also in the opening Chapters of Genesis God dealt with limiting the extent of our suffering and groaning by withdrawing the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden and limiting human life even further than what we see in the likes of Adam, Noah, Methuselah and others who lived to around 800 to 900 years. God limited life to no more than 120 years. God wanted to eradicate all human life and sent a flood, but there was something special, something unique in human life – something intimate that he did not have with the heavenly realm that saw him continue human life that was created in his own image. So God shortened human life to limit the extent of human suffering. And I guess that’s something we never really understand. That God loves us so much that he wants human life to continue but because of free will he doesn’t remove the evil and suffering that entered into the world as a result of our free will to disobey – but God has put it on a very short tether.

And so Paul says: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

 One of the biggest challenges that faces the Church and Christians in witnessing to the world is the existence of suffering and evil in the world. And Paul does not deny its existence but says that God has prepared an amazing experience once evil and  suffering has reached its end.The world we live in is God’s gift to us so he did not want to simply end it when evil entered in.

Human life is created in the image of God and is special to God so he didn’t, or rather couldn’t just end it when we disobeyed him in the Garden of Eden. So God is working with this dilemma. Allowing the creation and humanity that he loves with his whole heart to continue to exist but also showering his blessings on us which sadly we don’t see clearly because of suffering. So God, in his love for the world, limited human life span and sent his own Son as a human being to pay the full price of our disobedience and guarantee that when we die we enter into the eternal bliss that God had always planned for us. And again, that’s what Paul says – our eternal life is guarantee through Christ: Because, we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 But that still leaves one question unanswered. Why did God allow the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to exist – to provide that opportunity for humanity to disobey God and allow evil to enter? That is a question we may never know the answer to but we don’t know everything about God’s plan  We don’t know why Satan, after being banished from Heaven was allowed to roam this earth. Jesus tries to explain the situation in today’s Gospel parable. He explains the situation but not the inner details of why. He says; The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil – not God;

 Again, we don’t know everything of the heavenly realm but what we do know is that in Heaven no evil can exist. Everything evil has been banished from there including Satan and his demons. And as a result there will be no more suffering or death because nothing evil will be permitted to enter. And that’s why Paul says: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; We wait a maximum of 120 years – some less – but receive an eternity of bliss.

 Paul knows what he is talking about because he was given a glimpse what is waiting for us in the Heavenly realms. In 2 Corinthians he says that he was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. Friends, this time of suffering is difficult.  It is difficult because we have not been able to worship. We have not been able to receive Holy Communion. We have not been able to see family and friends. It is extremely difficult for the elderly, the lonely, those whose health is compromised.

And it can challenge our faith wondering what is God doing. But let us remember what Paul says – this suffering is like the suffering of birth pains – of labour about to give birth.

 And God has asked us to wait in hope. To wait in trust that God knows what he is doing even if we don’t.

Even if we can’t see what God is doing. Remember what Hebrews says about faith: faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. What we don’t see is how God is using this suffering for good. What we hope for is that this suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character hope – and hope will not disappoint us. We would all love for this to be over – for things to go back to the way things were. But let’s be honest – the way things were included a church that was declining – a Christian faith that was struggling for relevance. So let us remember what Joseph said to his brothers – what humans intend for evil God uses for good. I’m as disappointed as anyone that we have been forced back into lockdown but I am assured, and assure you too that Christian hope will never disappoint us.


Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Sermon 12th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 - Sowing God’s seed of love

Sermon 12th July 2020 – 6th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 -  Sowing God’s seed of love

 

I’m not a gardener – I can barely gather the motivation to drag out the lawn mower and mow the grass.

I look with envy those who live in apartment blocks and don’t have to worry about how long the grass is growing or how many weeds there are. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it as I know that in Genesis working in the Garden of Eden was a blessing that Adam enjoyed.  In fact the name Adam means from the ground or the earth. But I also understand that one of the first punishments of Adam’s sin affected his enjoyment of gardening: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” So I don’t feel so bad about my reluctance to do gardening.

 

But in today’s Gospel reading Jesus uses a gardening analogy; a well-known parable known as the parable of the sower which I would like to go through and comment on. Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart I think we all know this situation.  Maybe you’ve tried to share the gospel with someone. Maybe you’ve invited them to come along to church or a church function. I remember some years ago when one of my congregations was used by the local council as a watering stop for a local bike ride they organised and some people refused to stop and go into the church. We shouldn’t be surprised or disheartened when this happens but recognise what Jesus says about this seed we attempt to sow: the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart. This is a spiritual battle going on. This is frontline work on the battlefield and before we attempt to do anything like this we need to spend time in prayer and seek the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit. So remember that when you’re trying to share the Gospel with someone and they are rejecting, even antagonistic – if that’s happening then your efforts are working.

 

Too often we think when someone rejects our invitations that we’ve failed – far from it. The more we work – the harder the devil works but God’s Holy Spirit will win so we are encouraged to persist in praying.

 

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  This is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.

 

This is a sad situation. A person has heard the word – received the word – but then falls away when they are persecuted because of their acceptance of the word. This calls for us to take particular care of those who are new to the faith. We can’t just invite them – introduce them to the church – and then leave them and work on someone else. This puts a great responsibility on the church to follow up visitors and newcomers to our church. We don’t just put them into our database, put them in the directory and send out the bulletin and that’s our job done. No, this make take a lifetime of nurture and maybe they may be the only person that God puts before us. This is not about quantity – trying to get hundreds or thousands through the door. No, the bible says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents than 99 who do not need to repent. And this cannot be just the role of the Pastor or the Pastoral Assistants. We all have the responsibility of looking out for those who are missing – and this time of isolation is a real danger period for us of people slipping through the cracks. It’s so easy for one week to turn into 2 weeks to a month to a year.

 

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. This is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

 

This is also an all too common situation where priorities quickly take over. Sadly with 7 day work week – 24/7 society – sometimes church on Sundays become the easy part in our life to neglect. Not intentionally. This is not saying that church isn’t a priority but it is the easy one to manoeuvre around. Sundays have quickly become family days for so many organisations especially sport. But before we become critical of families – can you imagine what a child might think of church when a parent says to them – you can’t play footy this morning – we have to go to church. Or, you can’t go to your friend’s birthday party because you can’t miss Sunday School.

Children quickly begin to see church and related activities such as Sunday School as the enemy. How often don’t we hear young adults reject the church because it was shoved down our throats when we were growing up? I don’t know what the answer is other than this is a real challenge for the church to work with families. Being a Christian is not just about church attendance. It is first and foremost about creating a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

 

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”  This is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

There’s probably not a lot to analyse here. Sometimes we sow a seed of faith and it grows but what we can gather from Jesus final statement is that sometimes it produces a hundredfold – sometimes sixty and sometimes thirty. So he affirms – this is not about numbers but faith. As I said earlier, maybe there will only ever be one person that God places in your life to mentor and nurture in their faith. In fact sometimes we may only have laid the foundation that someone else builds upon.

Which is what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3: By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.

 

The final thought which the Parable of the Sower leaves us is that we can sow the seed anywhere. The farmer in our parable intentionally threw the seed on the path. There was no hole in his seed bag but rather he intentionally threw the seed among the thorns and the shallow ground. Even though he would know that they were not good places to sow seed he knew that ultimately it was not his decision or power to make them grow.. Have you ever thrown out food scraps and sometime later you’ve seen something grow – maybe some potatoes or tomatoes and yet when you try to grow them nothing appears. That’s how it is with God and mission.

 

Sometimes the most extraordinary results come from our unintentional actions. As, again, St Paul says in 1 Corinthians: I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. Today’s Gospel reading is all about mission work. And mission work is different to anything else we do because we cannot measure it by human measures. This is where we are called upon to trust in God and the work that he is doing which we don’t always see. And unlike human measures this is again not measured by human measures as the angels in heaven rejoice over ONE sinner who repents. So let us be like the sower in our parable – let us sow wherever we go. Let it be so natural to spread the love of God that we don’t even know we are doing it, like the parable of the sheep and goats who had no idea that they were doing God’s work. When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you hungry and give you something to eat?

 

We can spread the seed of God’s love everyday of our life in every aspect of our life as we go about loving our neighbour as ourselves. So may God bless you as you sow his seed of love wherever God sends you. I’m not a gardener, and we might think that we are not missionaries. But we can all spread the love of God wherever we go and with whomever we meet. And let us trust God in all this who promised in our Isaiah reading today: so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.


Thursday, 2 July 2020

Sermon 5th July 2020 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Saint and Sinner inner struggle

Sermon 5th July 2020 – 5th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 – Saint and Sinner inner struggle

 

I love this passage by Paul today. It’s among my favourites because Paul really does sum up the Christian struggle and what it’s like. Many people I know feel guilt over their Christian life because of their inability to overcome temptation and a sense that they should have been able to feel better about their life and done better as Christians. They sometimes wonder if in fact they are truly Christians because they certainly don’t feel as if the life they lead is any different to anyone else. And they fall into the trap of comparing their lives with other Christians and feel their life falls well short of living the Christian life.

 

The problem there is that they are comparing their inner feelings with the outer appearance of the other person not knowing what struggles they may in fact be going through themselves. If that sounds a little bit like you – let me share with you that the person I have just described is me. As much as many people might expect a Pastor to be an example of having reached the benchmark of having their life all sorted out because we work full time for the church and spend so much time reading the bible – praying and never missing church – let me assure you that I am no different to any other Christian who struggles in their prayer life and feels guilty about how much time they actually spend reading the bible and living the exemplary Christian life.

But let me also assure you that we are not alone and have one of the greatest men of faith alongside us sympathising with us.

 

Paul shares with us today his own inner struggle to reconcile his life with the life he had supposedly left behind. He says: I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. The good he wants to do he does not do – but the evil that he knows he should not do he keeps on doing. Friends, let me assure you this is the life of the Christian. In fact I’d be surprised if there wasn’t among us those who do not struggle and wrestle with their faith. Paul identifies why this is and it has nothing to do with an inferior faith or weak morals. In fact it may indeed be the opposite.

 

Paul realises that because of his faith that he has become more aware of his short failings. Because of his faith he has become more aware of the reality of just how sinful he is. That’s what he says in Romans chapter 3 verse 20: He says: no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. For Paul, he was still the same person that he was before he had his conversion experience but now, because of his knowledge of Jesus in his life he became aware of his sinfulness and his need for Jesus in his life. In fact Paul, when explaining his life prior to knowing Jesus says: I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. And so, as he confronts his inner struggle and realises that his life is absolutely miserable – he asks the question - Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? And his answer – the very one who made him aware of his need for Jesus in his life - thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul reveals to us that the solution to the inner struggles that we all have in our lives with overcoming sin – is NOT to try and attain a perfect way of life – even though God demands that from us. No, remember what he said earlier: no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law. But rather, our help is to go to the one who demands perfection from us seeking his mercy because we cannot achieve what God demands. Jesus also says that to us in today’s Gospel reading: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

As Christians we will never achieve what God demands from us – if we could then there was no need for Jesus to come and die for our sins.

Paul said that to the Galatians  - if we could become right through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and claim – well I’m not perfect so I won’t try to be perfect.

No, Paul said that in last week’s bible reading from Romans 6 -should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! We have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? No, this is falling on God’s mercy through Jesus and coming to him to seek his mercy. It is accepting Jesus’ invitation –  Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Rest for your souls.

 

Living the Christian life and especially the expectations that we put on ourselves is not easy. We have the inner struggle of what Martin Luther called Saint and Sinner both wrestling for dominance in our lives.

And that’s why Jesus said – come to ME and I will give you rest for your souls. That’s why St Paul when he struggled between the good he knew he should do, which he didn’t – and the evil that he knew he shouldn’t do – but he did – cried out - Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! And on top of that we have the judging eyes of the world whom Satan uses to bring us down.

 

Jesus also identified that when he spoke of himself and John the Baptist: John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, he’s a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Friends, we will never feel comforted by our own judgments or the judgments of others. There is only one judgment that matters and that is God’s Judgment which has already been pronounced upon us through Jesus and the assurance that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. So, friends, when you face that inner struggle, like in the cartoons where you have the devil on one shoulder telling you to do something and the angel on the other telling you not to do it – come to Jesus and let HIM bring you rest for your souls. No one can save our wretched lives except the one who died for us – Jesus Christ our Lord.

 


Thursday, 25 June 2020

Sermon 28th June 2020 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 10:40-42 – Extending our welcome

Sermon 28th June 2020 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 10:40-42 – Extending our welcome

 The comment has been made by several Pastors during the COVID 19 lockdowns that coming out of lockdown is much harder than going into lockdown. And it’s true from what I have experienced. Going into lockdown was as simple as shutting the doors and letting members know that until further notice that our church services have been suspended in our church buildings. People knew that because they saw it on the 24 hour news cycle. But coming out of lockdown and back into our churches has been difficult because we cannot open the church building to every member all at once and we cannot welcome visitors.

 And after last week’s service several members asked me – can we come next week. Can you imagine the pain that I experienced when I had to say – at this stage – NO. We have to allow others to come to church also. NO – you cannot come to church next week. Did you ever think we would be in a situation where we would have to say NO to someone wanting to come to church? Can you ever imagine a situation where you were hoping that a visitor didn’t turn up unannounced and that you would be in a situation where you would have to turn that person away? So you can understand how difficult this has been for the church in resuming worship.

 In a way it was much easier being in lockdown where, in a sense, no one was welcome. That’s really not true – but it’s the reality at present that our churches are struggling to juggle the restrictions. But let us remember that just as worship is not the full extent of our Christian life neither is the welcome we offer to friend and stranger alike on a Sunday. When we leave church on a Sunday we don’t stop being Christians in the rest of our lives. What we experience in worship we live out day to day in our daily lives. Likewise, the fact that we cannot welcome strangers and all members at this stage into our church buildings does not mean we cannot extend a welcome to others to experience the love and grace of God.

 In fact that has been the challenge for us in this time of isolation and lockdown in looking at ways of BEING church rather than DOING church. As St Paul says in Romans chapter 12; Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. And so we can continue to extend the hospitality of welcoming even while our churches are extremely restricted – and for some churches – their church buildings are still locked physically.

 Notice the transcending levels of Jesus’ welcoming in our Gospel reading today: It begins with God – whoever welcomes you welcome ME and whoever welcomes me welcomes the ONE WHO SENT ME. Then – whoever welcomes a PROPHET

Then – whoever welcomes a RIGHTEOUS PERSON And then whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these LITTLE ONES. So the love and hospitality we show can be extended to anyone – anywhere – even with the giving of a cup of cold water. The outreach and welcome to the world has NOT stopped simply because our church attendance has been restricted. Remember in Jesus’ ministry he went and ate with sinners. He invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus.

He walked among the lepers – the gentiles and the unclean. Jesus was not restricted. And even from the cross – nailed and unable to move physically he is still able to minister to the world as he cries out forgive them Father.

 Our welcome can and ought to be practiced by us at any time, no matter what circumstances or crises we find ourselves in.

Worship of God is not just an hour on a Sunday – it is our entire life as Paul says – offer your bodies as a living sacrifice – this is your true and proper worship. Don’t get me wrong – Sunday worship is important – it is where we gather as the family of God around Word and Sacrament. But in situations where our worship is interrupted such as now we can still be the people of God in welcoming friend and stranger alike. We also come to realize that our welcoming does not need to consist of large, heroic acts.  Any simple acts of kindness we offer as welcome for one another are all part of God’s work in the world.

 In this time of isolation, lockdown and restrictions we simply need to look around to see who is in need and offer God’s welcome which Jesus describes can be as simple as offering a glass of water. The act of welcoming has not been in lockdown and in fact we have been given even greater opportunity to extend it to those who are struggling through economic hardship and also through loneliness.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus will highlight how important this work of welcome is to God when he says: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me – or in some translations – you did TO me.’

 Christian faith is often described by Jesus as – even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed.

But with this faith we don’t need to move mountains. It is also made up of small acts – acts such as making a phone call to ask how a friend or stranger is doing, helping with groceries for those in isolation and unable to get out, reaching out to the lonely and most vulnerable among us.  There are no small gestures.  A cup of cold water is the smallest of gifts that Jesus mentions – a gift that almost anyone can give.  But a cup of cold water is precious and life giving to a person who is thirsty.

It doesn’t take much to be welcoming and sometimes with our busyness of church life we have even overlooked the stranger and needy among us.

 Maybe this break has been a blessing that God has been able to use to bring about good. Maybe the good that has come from this is that it has required us to look at new ways of connecting with friends and strangers and gotten us out of our comfortable ways where we can sometimes miss and neglect visitors. There are still many among us who have chosen not to be here in worship for health reasons. Let us not forget them in our busyness to return and fulfil all the requirements to keep our church safe. In our busyness and rejoicing in returning to worship let us continue to support and take the church’s welcome out to others who cannot join us yet and remind them that they are our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The welcome mat doesn’t live at the front door of our church. The welcome mat lives in our hearts as we take the presence of God to the world and offer the gift of welcome into God’s family and not just the church building.


Thursday, 18 June 2020

Sermon 21st June 2020 – Pentecost 3 Text: Matthew 10:24-39 – Physical and Spiritual Fear

Sermon 21st June 2020 – Pentecost 3

Text: Matthew 10:24-39 – Physical and Spiritual Fear

 

Our last service in this church was 22nd March – 3 months ago. It was the 2nd last Sunday of Lent just before Palm Sunday which celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus. I like to think that today is our Triumphal Entry even though not all our members have returned because of continued restrictions. But we are on our way and as from next week we can increase our numbers again. It’s been a difficult 3 months especially for some of our more isolated members and it continues for many of our members whose health is compromised and are not feeling comfortable about returning to worship or other public gatherings.

 

As a Pastor I also worried at the start of our isolation about our churches wondering whether we could survive a period of no services as our finances were struggling even before we went into lockdown. But I underestimated the faithfulness of all our members and for that I am deeply sorry. I succumbed to the basic human flaw of fear. Something that we all do at some time or another in our faith journey – we fear. Something Jesus’ own disciples did even while in his presence.

 

Fear is an natural human response to the unknown. Fear can be either physical or spiritual fears about our future. And our physical fears can at times affect our spiritual fears. In our gospel reading Jesus acknowledges that there are 2 fears – the physical and the spiritual. He says: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

Human nature is often, daily even, confronted by human fear. And it is usually a fear for our human future. Do I have enough money? How will my health impact on my life? Is my job safe? And so often the church is affected by earthly fear even while it maintains its spiritual confidence. Will we meet our budget? Where are all our young people? Who is going to take over the leadership roles? Physical fears can at times impact our spiritual security. Peter, walking on the water, faced his physical fears – the wind and the waves – but then began to sink as his faith in Jesus began to be affected. But our physical fears are comforted not by physical assurances but also by our spiritual assurances. Working harder to earn more money won’t remove our physical fear – it will just delay it as new fears arise. Running programs in our churches to get more people into church or telling people to give more won’t remove our physical fears – new ones will always arise.

 

Our fears, whether they are physical or spiritual are comforted only by God. And Jesus reassures us that every fear, no matter how small or how big, our physical and spiritual fears are all known by God and are all managed by God. Jesus says: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

As we have journeyed these 3 months in lockdown – and as we look to the future with still some uncertainty of how things are moving forward – God has journeyed with us and will continue to journey with us. God has not and never will abandon us but makes his presence known to us. Physical fears are all around us and we find that once we’ve overcome our latest fear there are new ones just around the corner. Jesus says they can come from anywhere – even from unexpected sources –even our own family. Jesus wants us to be aware that only from God can we attain an assurance of care an protection.

He even says that some of our opposition may come from those we might have thought we could expect to find peace and comfort. He says: For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ thinking - that he is against family – not at all. In fact the 4th commandment upholds family and commands us to love and respect our parents. What he is saying is that only God can provide guaranteed assurance that removes all our fears. Because God can provide not just physical protection but spiritual protection. And for Christians that is so important as Paul says in Ephesians: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

 

So when it comes to our Christian faith we’re going to find that the physical comforts that usually provide hope to people is not where we are going to find our help. The battles that we face as Christians are spiritual battles because the devil is always working to undermine our faith and will use those who are closest to us at times to attack our faith. That’s what we’re up against but we are assured that one greater than all the powers of darkness is  fighting for us. Physical fears will always affect us. It’s who we are as human beings. Even Adam and Eve with all the physical wants and desires met in the Garden of Eden felt they wanted more and were tricked by Satan. Their physical fears became spiritual fears. And notice that Satan used their fear to set husband against wife – the woman you gave me!

 

And that’s where God’s grace always comes in to help us. Our spiritual fears have been defeated. They have been buried with Christ in our Baptism, as St Paul reminded us today: All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. There’s our spiritual fears dealt with. Dead and buried. And we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

And neither does it have a hold over us because we have been buried with Christ and will rise with him.

 

Physical fears will remain with us until we are through this life. And those physical fears will at times be the source of our spiritual fears and may often be from those closest to us. Satan spares nothing when it comes to attacking our faith.

But Jesus comes to comfort and protect us. God knows your fears – he knows the very hairs on your head. So the one who knows when a sparrow falls from the sky certainly knows when you have fallen for you are worth more than many sparrows.