Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Sermon 4th October 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 21:33-46 – Holding up a mirror

 

Sermon 4th October 2020 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 21:33-46 – Holding up a mirror

 

One of the things I enjoy about the Pentecost Season in the church is that we spend a lot of time listening to Jesus’ parables. Parables are a special way that Jesus teaches the people listening to him. Some are hard to unravel. Some make you squirm as you realise that he is speaking directly to you. Some seem to be able to speak one way to you and another way to someone else. That’s the beauty of listening to Jesus’ parables.  There is always something new that you get out of them.

In a sense Jesus uses the parables like a mirror. He did that last week to the chief priests and elders with his parable of the 2 sons working in the vineyard. And he does it today in the parable of the disobedient tenants. Sometimes it is hard to point out a person’s wrong doing and using this way of helping them to see themselves in a parable helps them to actually see their wrong doing.

In the Old Testament God uses the prophet Nathan to do that when King David refuses to accept that he has done something wrong in committing adultery with Bathsheba. Instead of accepting his wrongdoing he has Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle so he can legally marry her. Nathan presents a parable before King David about a wealthy landowner who steals his neighbours family lamb to present as a meal for his guests even though he has plenty his own sheep. King David is furious at that rich landowner not realising that it is himself and he pronounces judgment on that tyrant. And then Nathan declares to King David – YOU are the man. He used the parable as a mirror for King David to see his own actions which he could not see on his own.

It is easy for us to justify our lives before God by declaring ourselves righteous saying – I haven’t killed anyone so I’ve never broken the 5th commandment. I haven’t stolen anything. I haven’t committed adultery. It’s like the man who came to Jesus one day to ask how to inherit eternal life. Jesus said: You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus knew his heart and what to present for him to look at himself like looking in a mirror.

Martin Luther when writing his Catechisms said that God also uses the Law as a mirror, in particular the 10 Commandments. He explained what is referred to as the 3 uses of the law with the purpose of leading us to the Gospel pronouncing the forgiveness of our sins. He said that the First Use of the Law acts like a curb or a fence. It is the Law that is enacted by our Governments to protect us. So, the commandments – you shall not steal – you shall not kill – these govern law and order. As citizens we Christians follow them. If we break them, even though God forgives us, we are still punished by law. They are laws that God provides to give law and order and peaceful communities.

The 2nd Use of the Law is what is described as the Mirror. These are what we as Christians are to use to reflect on our lives. Like the young man claiming that he had kept all the commandments since he was a child, he was urged by Jesus to look again with Christlike eyes. So when Jesus was asked what is the Greatest Commandment he answered – love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength – and love your neighbour as yourself. So as we reflect on the commandments and try to justify ourselves by saying – I haven’t killed anyone so I haven’t broken the 5th commandment, St John says in his First Letter (3:15) to look again: Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer. Or if we say that we love God but John again tells us to look again - If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Jesus says, anyone who looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery in their heart. So the law here is to act like a mirror to remind us of our need for Jesus. 

Like King David we often try to avoid our guilt. We are very good at making excuses or justifying why we did what we did. The problem with that is we then avoid hearing the comforting word of God’s forgiveness. That is God’s desire for you. Jesus says – God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him. God wants to love us – to forgive us – to wrap his loving arms around us to let us know of his  grace for us. We hear Jesus weep when we keep trying to deal with our guilt by our own means like King David and the Pharisees did: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And we hear how heavy that guilt weighs upon us in King David’s Psalm 32: Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one     whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent,  my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. So the purpose of the 2nd Use of the Law is to drive us to Jesus Christ and his grace and forgiveness. We call that Justification

And once we have been comforted by the Gospel the Law takes on a new role in the life of the Christian – we call that Sanctification. Knowing that we have been saved by Grace. Knowing that the Law can no longer condemn us because of Christ – we are now free to explore the gift of God’s commandments to see how to live blessed lives. The reason I don’t commit murder is not because I’m afraid of the punishment of jail. The reason I don’t commit murder is not because I’m afraid of God’s judgment. Rather I don’t commit murder because I love God with all my heart and because I love my neighbour.

And that’s what Jesus is trying to teach through the parables. And it did the trick as Matthew points out: When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. Now they are invited to repent and discover the freeing Gospel – but they unfortunately don’t: They wanted to arrest him.

St Paul knows all too well our human tendency to avoid accusations of wrong doing: If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Even though, according to Paul’s own words, when it came to righteousness under the law he was blameless – he lacked knowing the grace of God because he had no need for it. But when he came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord he found a different blessing from the law – not blamelessness but forgiveness – as did King David. Not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

If we try hard enough we can always find a good excuse or a reason for why we did something we shouldn’t have. God wants us to come to him not so he can condemn us and make us feel guilty but so he can free us from the guilt and burden that King David experienced when his bones were crushed by the weight of his sin. Maybe we have to face an earthly punishment when we confess but what a freeing gift it is knowing that God does not condemn us. Imagine how free the woman caught in adultery felt when Jesus said that all her accusers were gone and that he did not condemn her either but to go and not let sin enslave her any more. Or the woman who washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair while righteous Simon the Pharisee ignored the needs of Jesus: And Jesus says to Simon: “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Let us not be afraid to come to Jesus and bring all our baggage with us. God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save the world through him. Go in peace – your faith has save you.

 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Sermon 27th September 2020 - 17th Sunday after Pentecost: Text: Philippians 2:1-13 – Strength through humility

 

Sermon 27th September 2020

Text: Philippians 2:1-13 – Strength through humility

 

How are you feeling after 8 weeks of stage 4 lockdowns? How are you feeling after 6 months of restrictions on what some call basic human liberties and rights? Do you feel like fighting back? Do you feel like sometimes joining the protesters and fighting the system? Can you imagine how many times Jesus was tempted to fight back and didn’t?

 

In Paul’s letter to the Phillipians St Paul says that even though Jesus had every right to fight back against the injustices that were done to him, he didn’t. He says -though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Jesus could have demanded his rights – in fact at one stage it seemed like he might do that but responded – your will be done – not mine. Jesus was tempted to exert his rights – you’re hungry – turn these rocks into bread – if you’re the Son of God. If you are the son of God – come down from the cross.

 

It is easy, when we feel our human rights are being infringed upon, to fight back and often what happens is that the problem then escalates and gets worse. Instead, as Christians, even when we might feel infringed upon – even if we truly feel we need to respond – we need to remember, again, Christ’s qualities: That he - emptied himself - he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.

What Paul is trying to teach us is NOT to be weak and like doormats for people to wipe their feet on.

No, humility is God’s hidden strength in us. Rather he is trying to show us a different strength where we actually use another person’s energy to defeat themselves.

 

I remember many years ago in my youth when learning martial arts my teacher said that the real skill is to use the other person’s strength against themselves. Paul sort of gave us an example a couple weeks ago when he said in Romans 12 - Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” So rather than fighting back, aim for peace and reconciliation and allow their conscience to do its work.

 

Jesus also gives us an example today in our Gospel reading when he uses the strength of his accusers against themselves: When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Now, Jesus could have fought back, argued against them – what’s this to do with you – but he let them do that to themselves: Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? And what happened – their fighting against Jesus was turned in on themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.”  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” Now Jesus doesn’t need to exert his own strength but neutralised their strength by themselves: And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. And even against our greatest adversary – the devil – James says - humble yourself before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Don’t fight against him – resist him – and he will flee.

Stand and fight and you enter his territory.

Humility is the secret weapon that God has given to us. It doesn’t mean weakness, but has James says – it is handing over to God. And so, Jesus, instead of fighting back, like Peter did when he cut off the ear of one of Jesus’ attackers in the Garden of Gethsemane, humbles himself to God even to the point of death on the cross.

 

Most of us don’t like the way things are. We want our liberties back – we want our church gatherings back – but how do we express ourselves in the best way? By humility and obedience – as Jesus did.

Maybe some of the restrictions are unfair or over the top. Maybe the cure has become worse than the disease – but we need to be careful, as Paul says in Ephesians – in your anger do not sin. As Christians we trust in God to whom all must submit. If there is injustice in this then God is the one who judges, as Paul says - at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And that’s where we turn for justice rather than taking justice into our own hands which we are always tempted to do as human beings.

 

The pandemic has turned our lives upside-down.  We have been struggling to deal with the situation physically, mentally, spiritually, and economically.  In times of difficulty and chaos, it is very easy to despair and fear and take matter into our own hands. And when that happens it causes more disharmony.

We can see it in the Israelites when they were led out of slavery from the Egyptians and were facing difficulty and challenge in the desert. They questioned and quarreled with Moses.  They lost faith and sight of God’s presence, they would rather be back in slavery in Egypt. And that’s what happens when we fall back on our own defence rather than humbling ourselves before God and allowing God to take control. That’s what was behind Satan’s temptation of Jesus which on the surface didn’t seem that bad – you’re hungry – turn these rocks into bread. But this was about humility and trusting God. About letting God take control and not taking control himself. Christ humbled himself and God exalted him.

 

Just like the Israelites, when we lose sight of God’s control, all we can focus on is going back to the previous “normal” life.  The truth is that there may be no “normal” life we once had.  Things may be different.  And we can either trust God or use all our energy to fight and demand our human rights back again. And so Paul encourages us that when we trust God then he brings about his glory: And he reminds us in the closing of our reading - God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

It’s not easy to forgo our own rights but Paul urges us - Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

 

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sermon 20th September 2020 Text: Matthew 20:1-16 – A generous God.

 

Sermon 20th September 2020

Text: Matthew 20:1-16 – A generous God.

 

Have you ever had that stumper of a question put to you? How can a loving God send people to Hell? How can a loving God send people to Hell? What I find interesting in today’s readings – especially our Old Testament and Gospel reading is a different question. The question – how can a loving God NOT send people to Hell?

 

Our Old Testament reading tells a bizarre account of a prophet named Jonah. He was sent by God to an evil country called Nineveh.  His message to them from God was that in 40 days God was going to destroy them because of their evil. Jonah didn’t want to go there and jumps on a ship going in the opposite direction to Tarshish. But God, instead of finding someone else, sticks with Jonah to teach him a valuable lesson.

God sends a storm to cause the ship to almost sink. Jonah, realising that he is at fault offers to be thrown overboard.  The crew do so and he is swallowed by a giant fish for 3 days and then spat up onto the shore.

He goes and delivers the message and as a result Nineveh repents and God changes his mind about destroying it.

Now we have in our reading a sulking Jonah. And why is he sulking? From Jonah’s own mouth: O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. Jonah wasn’t afraid of the Ninevites and what they might do to him. He was afraid of God’s love and mercy and that he would not follow up the threat if Nineveh became aware of their destruction and asked for God’s mercy. That’s why Jonah didn’t want to go – he wasn’t afraid of what Nineveh would do to him; He was afraid what God would actually do to Nineveh- forgive them.

 

We have a similar situation in the Gospel reading where Jesus tells a parable about workers in a vineyard.  There are the lucky ones who were given a full day’s employment with full wages. During the course of the day he went out 4 more times – 9am, noon, 3pm and 5pm – offering work. And when it came time to pay them he paid them all a full day’s wage. Even though the ones hired first received what they had agreed to they were furious because the owner paid even those who had worked just one hour the same amount of money – a full days wage. The owner responds: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?

 

I have to admit that sometimes my comfort comes knowing that there is a judgment day and that those who have caused an injustice in the world will need to give an account before God. But in reality that is no better than Jonah or the workers who grumbled against the landowner’s generosity. The stories of Jonah and the generous landowner challenge us when we try to evaluate what is fair or not fair in life. When we evaluate fairness we usually evaluate from our perspective and how a situation affects us. What God is trying to teach us here is to consider a bigger picture when evaluating fairness.

 

God speaks with a very angry Jonah who believes God has acted in an unfair way. Nineveh were evil people and they deserved to be punished – probably very true. But God wants Jonah to see it from a different perspective. In the heat of the day as Jonah sat and waited for God to destroy Nineveh, God appointed a bush to give shade over Jonah and save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it died and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die.  He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”  

Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

 

Jonah was considering fairness from his own perspective and failed to see that even though Nineveh were evil they were still God’s people whom he created. People whom he loved so much that he would send his own Son to die for their sins. And that’s the same with our Gospel reading. It was not about fairness but about God’s love and care for all people. Yes the ones who worked only an hour received exactly the same as those who worked the entire day and maybe it seemed unfair to those who worked all day. But God was fair to everybody giving them what they needed and not what they deserved. God was fair in that he gave what he had promised – a full day’s wage.

 

And that’s the lesson for us. That we received from God not what we deserve but what we need. And God will honour his promises to us when it comes to eternal life in Heaven. Let us ever be thankful that we do NOT receive from God what we deserve but from the gracious love and mercy of God. Let us be thankful that for us God is a gracious God, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. So as we reflect on God from that perspective let us also reflect that outward and not gauge life as to whether it is fair or not from OUR perspective but from God’s perspective who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

As Christians who know that we are saved by grace this should also be our perspective throughout life.

Life is often unfair. For some it is mostly unfair when we look at how some people prosper in life and yet have no regard for God in their life. Paul could easily had seen life as unfair from his perspective. From the moment he became a Christian it seemed like his earthly life became so unfair. From a respected and influential Pharisee Paul was now subject to persecution, ridicule and imprisonment. But Paul did not see life from that perspective. Rather he saw it from God’s perspective: He says: To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. So Paul saw the difference in perspective. If he were to die he knew he would go to Heaven and how great that would be. But to continue to live, even though it meant imprisonment, threats to his life and all sorts of hardship – it meant that he could keep working for God and spreading the Gospel for other.

 

Maybe life sometimes seems unfair but this is where faith comes in. We know God is loving and gracious and will give to us eternal life as he has promised. If we want to consider unfair, how unfair that he who had no sin became sin for us so that we should become the righteousness of God. As we consider Jesus’ parable today let us remember that those who worked all day, knew all day that they and their family would be able to afford a meal that night. But those who were employed only in the last hour did not know until that last hour that they might be able to put something on the table for their family to eat even if it was just one hour’s pay as they presumed. Let us continue to pray for the godless so they too may be able to experience the joy we have knowing that whatever life presents us, our present suffering is not worth comparing to the joy and glory that awaits us. And let us remember that today that reality is one day closer that it was yesterday.

.

 

Monday, 7 September 2020

Sermon 13th September 2020 Text: Matthew 18:21-35 – A Second Chance

 Sermon 16th September 2020

Text: Matthew 18:21-35 – A Second Chance

 For some weeks now the questions have been asked. Whose fault is it that we are still in lockdown while the rest of the country has opened up? Whose fault is it that our churches are still closed? We want names – we want jobs – we want someone held accountable. That’s how it goes, doesn’t it? We want offenders punished.

But Jesus said, forgive not seven times, but 70 times seven.  

 OK, let’s count it up; we must be way beyond that limit now.  But if we’re honest, we know when Jesus said “70 times seven” he was using it to mean “always.”  You must always forgive. And not only that, with God there is forgiveness of sins whereby he “remembers our sin no more”. So really there just needs to be forgiveness once and then it resets because God, unlike us, can and does forgive and forget.

 Have you ever tried to forgive AND forget? When St Paul said – love keeps no record of wrongs – it seems the more you love someone the deeper the hurt and the harder it is to forget. Jesus tells a parable about the wicked slave who is forgiven a huge sum by his master, but then goes out and throws a fellow slave in prison for being owed just a fraction.  We hear that the wicked slave then gets his just punishment.  As we hear this parable it is easy to respond with - “Good, He deserved that!  We might forget that he was punished not because he owed money, but because he didn’t forgive in the same way that he had been forgiven. In fact, the amount he was asked to forgive was pittance compared to what he was forgiven.

 Jesus is very serious about forgiveness and we are reminded that it was while WE were yet sinners that Christ died for us. So how can forgiveness be achieved if our hearts are so hurt that we are unable to forgive from the heart – unable to forgive and forget –  which is what Jesus demands at the end of this parable when the unmerciful servant was thrown into prison – never to be released. He says: so my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

 It is possible – and what does it look like? What does God’s forgiveness look like for us? God’s forgiveness is about cancelling crippling debt that gives a 2nd chance. It’s not about excusing wrong behaviour but allowing a person to rebuild their life and live again. As Christians we have an opportunity to example that behaviour to the world. And the example that we have as Christians is the knowledge that Jesus from the cross does not ask his Father to avenge his death on us – but forgive them Father.

 Sadly we live in a world where that is becoming more and more unlikely and we face the latest phenomenon that is called “Cancel Culture”. What cancel culture is that if a person is discovered to have done something wrong – no matter how long ago it was – then they must be punished for it and their future cancelled – hence “cancel culture”. So instead of looking for a 2nd chance – there is no 2nd chance with cancel culture. There has been many examples of public profiles where people have searched and searched going through years of history to find some dirt on a person and then making it public to shame that person so much that they have to resign. Their future is cancelled.

 On the contrary, with God, we see mercy at the heart of his actions. The first servant had an unpayable debt.

But the king is prepared to forgo punishment for the debt. To give the unmerciful servant a 2nd chance – which he is unable to give to a fellow servant.

 In our forgiveness what we are doing is forgoing our own need for retribution as the king did and to give a 2nd chance. Forgiveness doesn’t remove the pain we feel but it means we can begin to heal.

Unforgiveness allows the injustice to keep hurting us through anger and unresolved bitterness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean justice does not need to be carried out but it means we hand it over to God and his justice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that those causing hurt must not be stopped by our forgiveness of them.

There is something very powerful though when we forgo the right to achieving justice by our own hands. As St Paul says in Romans 12: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 I particularly find Paul’s comment interesting in that when we forgo repaying evil with evil we “heap burning coals on their head”. That’s not the reason we do it but it is hopefully a teaching moment for them also. But even more so is that when we forego our own vengeance, it allows God to do his work of justice which is not always  retribution but a good that can come out of it – as we see with Joseph and his brothers. What they did to Joseph was reprehensible – some might even say – unforgiveable. They sold him as a slave to Egypt and told their father that he was dead causing hurt not just to Joseph but to his father Jacob and brother Benjamin. But when Joseph had the opportunity for revenge he did not take it because God had used his situation to prevent world-wide starvation by elevating Joseph to 2nd in charge in Egypt. So Joseph says to his brothers: Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.

 Friends, it is natural to want to blame someone for the situation we are currently in. We wanted to blame Wuhan China for the origin of the coronavirus. We want to blame our Premier for not supervising the  quarantine situation. We want to blame the Black Lives Matter protesters. But God directs us a different way.

We don’t like the lockdowns and the lack of liberties we have now. We don’t like that our church doors are shut and our inability to have Holy Communion. We don’t like that weddings and funerals and Baptisms are no longer celebrations as they were. But we have to keep trusting God – that if there is evil behind this – and I’m not saying there is – remember we live in a fallen world. But whatever the source of our situation is – we are not in the place of God.

 What anyone or anything else has intended for evil – to do harm – God can and will use for good. We have seen some of that good in that the internet is being flooded with church services online from around the world spreading the gospel faster than any cat video can do. But we have to keep trusting God. And in trusting God then we are forgoing our own need to exact justice. There are many who are hurting – who have lost lives and livelihoods. But that too is an opportunity for us – for the church – to do God’s work in feeding the hungry. The road map out looks confusing and really not all that inspiring for the resumptions of church services but remember – we know the way that we are going because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Sermon 6th September 2020 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 18:15-20 – Peace through reconciliation

 

Sermon 6th September 2020 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Matthew 18:15-20 – Peace through reconciliation

 

Today’s Gospel reading has probably the most important teaching of Jesus or anyone in the Bible. And the reason it is so important is that it goes to the heart of our relationship with God. It goes to the heart of the greatest commandment  - to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbour as ourselves. The heart of the teaching – the forgiveness of sins –

The forgiveness of one another and forgiveness from heaven itself: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 

Why is this so important? Because our relationship with God has been broken by sin. Sin is dealt with by repentance and forgiveness. When God discovered in the days of Noah that wiping out sinful humanity and starting again did not eradicate sin but saw it begin again with righteous Noah – So God began to deal with sin through forgiveness. He instituted a system of sacrifices whereby 3 times a day – morning, noon and night, the Priests would offer sacrifices for the people to appease God’s judgment and instituted forgiveness to deal with their sin. While it worked in theory, the Israelites wandered away and worshipped other god’s. So God dealt with their sin by exiling them – driving them out of the land and out of his presence and into enemy lands. But there was something that prevented God from doing that forever. The same “something” that prevented God from destroying all of humanity in the flood and kept one family – Noah and his family. And that is God’s love.

 

And so, in John 3:16, we see how God’s love now deals with human sin: 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. And now, in Matthew 18, Jesus is teaching us about that same principle – that through love of our neighbour – forgiveness of sins is how we restore relationships and thereby we show our love for God. As St John says; whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And that this restoration is so powerful – so effective – that it affects not just here on earth but the very heavens itself: For whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 

In this passage, Jesus gives us a lesson on how to deal with matters where we or someone has been hurt. And the first thing Jesus says is: go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. Sounds simple, but in practice this is not what we seem to do. We hold a grudge. We tell OTHERS about the hurt. We gossip about them. In today’s world of social media we might unfriend them – or post something about them to tell the whole world. But here Jesus says – go and speak with one another. And that’s not easy because we are proud people. We want the other person to come to us and apologise to us. But then we might not accept their apology. But let us remember the example God gave us – it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us – the righteous for the unrighteous. God didn’t wait for us to make the first move.

 

As Christians, we have a great responsibility here because we know about God’s love. And sometimes we are challenged to make the first move even though we truly believe it was not our fault. And sometimes we are challenged even further to accept an apology and offer forgiveness when we truly believe that justice has not been given to us. But there is justice in God who sees what is done. And the justice is in the peace which God gives to us as we read in Psalm 133: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is as if the dew of Hermon   were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. And if you’ve ever had a relationship restored you will know that peace that comes. But sadly we quickly forget that feeling of peace when the next conflict comes.

 

As you are probably aware, our entire church is currently in a situation of division needing reconciliation. You would have received the report from our General Church Board and College of Bishops concerning the Ordination of Men and Women to the Public Ministry. It speaks into the division we face with an impasse that seems unable to avoid a split in our church.

And as you are no doubt aware this has caused great hurt. Such great hurt that many of our family and friends have left the church.

 

That division is sadly existent in the church from the very beginning. St Paul had to deal with that in his own ministry.

He had to separate from his friend and colleague in the ministry Barnabas. Acts 15 says: They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.

Paul had to deal with division in one of the first church communities he established in Corinth who were divided over Baptism: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas ”; still  another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Division is how Satan enters into the relationship. As St Paul warns in Ephesians – in your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger giving Satan a foothold.

 

Satan looks for and sometimes creates division to do his work. He divided Adam and Eve – first physically – when he tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. Then spiritually when he turned them against each other and God: The woman you gave me, she made me eat. Satan infiltrated the 12 Apostles as we hear in Luke’s Gospel: Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.

 

Satan creates division but God has given us the path to healing through reconciliation – but it is not an easy path. Many churches have succumbed to Satan through division. Many Christians have left the family of faith through unreconciled division. And that’s why I say – this is the most important teaching of Jesus and so powerful that it rocks the very foundations of heaven: Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

 

Sometimes, sadly, reconciliation is unachievable. In fact in the Marriage Act there is only one grounds for divorce – irreconcilable differences. So what happens when that point is reached. Jesus addresses that also when he says:

Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Sadly we have not understood what Jesus meant here and have used this as justification for removing people from our lives and from the church through excommunication. But we need to look more closely and ask ourselves – how did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors. He ate with them – he loved them – he included them closer in his lives than any other group.

 

The call for us to love unconditionally and with readiness to forgive and reconcile is always upon us. As St Paul said today in our 2nd reading: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; This is not easy. Sometimes it will be the hardest thing we have to do. But life is too short to hold a grudge – to withhold forgiveness from someone who was once a friend – a family member – a brother or sister in Christ. But how sad it would be to reach the end of our life or the life of that person knowing we could have reconciled but didn’t. And it is never too soon as Paul reminds us: For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.

 

So let us look to ways that we can reconcile with one another regardless of who is at fault and hopefully as we continue to discuss the subject of ordination that we can seek reconciliation, forgiveness and unity as we remember How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  And in this all, let us always remember, it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.

 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Sermon 23rd August 2020 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 16:13-20 – The Jesus’ Quiz

 

Sermon 23rd August 2020 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost Text: Matthew 16:13-20 – The Jesus’ Quiz

 Our family enjoys doing the Herald Sun quiz during dinner. It feels really good when you get the answer right – but even better when no one else knows the answer and you get that smirk on your face and proudly say – I know the answer. I wonder if Peter, today, had that same sense of pride when he answers correctly the quiz Jesus gives to him which others had answered incorrectly. The quiz:  Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”   “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 

So then Jesus puts the quiz to his own disciples: He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! It’s such an important question and brings so much hope to us all in these uncertain times. And Jesus shows us just how important that question is when he explains to Peter what his answer actually means: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

 

What rock is Jesus referring to? Some believe that the Rock is Peter because his name – Petros – means “rock” in Greek. But the rock is his confession of faith – that Jesus Christ is the Messiah – the Son of the living God. Jesus had earlier told a parable of a wise and foolish builder. The difference was not what they had built but the foundation on which they built. The foolish builder built on sand – the wise builder built on a rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against those houses. The house built on sand collapsed. But the house built on the rock did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

 

What comforting assurance Jesus’ message to Peter brings to us today as our churches here in Victoria continue to have their public gatherings banned. Jesus reminds us today that his church is built on a solid foundation that not even the gates of hell can defeat it. As I have reminded you throughout this lockdown that our church buildings have been closed but the church continues to remain open – because YOU are the church of God. And that’s what Paul refers to in our 2nd reading today when he says: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

 

On several occasions Paul talks about the body of Christ being made up by the children of God and not bricks and mortar.

In fact he says that God has built his temple in us. He says: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? Jesus even warned against a trust in the physical structure of the worship building over against the foundation upon which it is built: One day, as Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”  Jesus replied: Do you see all these great buildings?” “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” And then, towards his death when he knew that the disciples would be challenged by not seeing his physical body, he tells them: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The Pharisees replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  But the temple Jesus had spoken of was his body. And now YOU are the body of Christ that Jesus himself has built.

 

These are really challenging times for the church here in Victoria. Our church buildings have been had their access removed from us. We cannot gather together to receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. But what cannot be taken away from us; What cannot be destroyed or even shaken – is the foundation upon which our faith stands. And that is Jesus Christ our Lord. And so the question that Jesus put to his disciples is put to us today. Who do you say I am? Jesus is not John the Baptist. No John himself said that – the one coming after me I am not even worthy to tie up his shoe laces. He is not Elijah or one of the prophets – no – none of them died for our sins. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And not even the gates of hell, let alone Covid 19 or any Government lockdown can prevail against him.

 

The parable of the 2 builders – the wise and the foolish – can be seen in Peter’s example a couple weeks ago when he wanted to walk on the water along with Jesus. When he focused on Jesus he was able to walk on the water because Jesus was his foundation, not the water. Just like the wise builder who built his house on the rock. And even though the wind and the waves hit upon him, he was secure. But when he took his eyes of Jesus, the water became his foundation and he began to sink. Just like the foolish builder whose foundation was the sand.

 

At present the wind and the waves of Covid 19 – stage 4 restrictions – and a state of disaster are pounding against the church. The temptation is to look away from Jesus and begin to panic and fear. But Jesus reassures us today that his church is built upon the rock and not even the gates of hell can prevail against it. And as St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians when reminding the Israelites that God was with them in their wilderness journey – a journey that lasted a lot longer than the 5 months journey we’ve been on: They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. And that rock continues to accompany us today.

 

So let us continue to keep our faith firmly set on the rock that is Christ. Let us continue to keep our focus on Jesus Christ who has promised to be with us always. And when you are tempted to look away and allow the world to tell you otherwise – answer that question put by Jesus Christ to you today and everyday: Who do you say that I am? And if you truly believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son – that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah – then not even the gates of hell can prevail.

They can shut our church buildings – they can even stop us from gathering around the table of the Lord – but no one – not even the gates of hell – can destroy the faith that is built upon the rock. And as Paul said to the Romans as Peter confessed today: If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Grant this Lord, to us all. Amen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Sermon 16th August 2020 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost Text Matthew 15: 21-28 – Irrevocable promises of God

 Sermon 16th August 2020 – 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Text Matthew 15: 21-28 – Irrevocable promises of God

 

In the past week I have been reflecting quite deeply about last week’s Gospel reading. If you recall it was the account of the disciples being in a boat that was being tossed about by the wind and the waves when a ferocious storm hit them.  They were fearing for their lives when a mysterious figure appears walking on the water. They presume it is a ghost that has come from the deep waters that were the home of the evil spirits.

Then comes the comforting words of Jesus – don’t be afraid – it is me – or as I explained – his actual words were - don’t be afraid – I AM God. Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water asked for permission to do likewise. Jesus says “come” and he walks on the water until he sees again the wind and the waves and begins to sink. He cries out – Jesus save me – which of course he does. He extends his hands – places him back in the boat and says – you of little faith – why did you doubt?

 

And it’s that last phrase by Jesus that has been ringing in my ears all week – all month – almost all year – you of little faith – why are you doubting? I have to admit, doubt is my biggest concern. Because as soon as I doubt I fear – like Peter. Doubt can face even the strongest of Christians. I don’t believe doubt is a sin – no it’s more serious. Doubt is how Satan attacks our faith in God and it can affect anyone. Listen to what Matthew says about the 11 disciples- those closest to Jesus – the ones in the boat last week who said – truly this is the Son of God.  Matthew 28 says: the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

 

Satan’s weapon against Christians is to cause doubt in God’s ability to help them and directs them to their own strength. Think back to where our problems with God all started – in the Garden of Eden – when Satan cast doubts in the mind of Eve – did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden. And then when Eve responded that they would die if they did – Satan casts further doubt – surely you won’t die. It was similar doubt that he cast in Jesus mind when he tempted him in the wilderness – If you are the Son of God – turn these rocks into bread –if you are the Son of God “if” – doubts. Trying to turn Jesus to trust his own strength rather than trusting God – if you’re hungry, turn these rocks into bread. Feed yourself if you’re hungry.

 

So Jesus concern for Peter was that he could see Satan attacking Peter by creating doubt. And that for me becomes a stumbling block – doubting God in all this that we are going through. Is God really in control here?

And I began to doubt that he was and I began to fear for the future – the future of the church – my future as a Pastor – the future of people I love and their financial security. Those doubts create fear- fear creates further doubts in God and we are suddenly spiralling downward – sinking – and unable to regain our security and faith in God.

 

And that’s what we are seeing answered in our Bible readings today – particularly our 2 readings from the New Testament – Paul’s letter to the Romans and Matthews Gospel. Paul asks a question: I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! Paul never doubted God’s love for his people. And even though he is specifically referring to his Jewish brothers and sisters here we can confidently include all people because Jesus says that God loved the entire world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life.

 

What a wonderful and comforting promise made to us all that we can cling to like a life preserver, which is what God’s promises are – life preservers. And then Paul speaks about God’s promises when he says -  the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. God cannot and will not revoke his promises to us.

 

Now let’s give Peter credit where credit is due. When he began to doubt and began to sink he immediately called out to Jesus – Lord, save me. He didn’t turn to his own strength and try to swim back to the boat or struggle against the wind and waves – he turned to Jesus again and cries out to him – Lord, save me. Doubts are going to happen. Storms are going to happen in our lives. It will feel like God is not in control, like it did to Peter. But that’s when we remember God’s promise to us – I am with you always – and we cry out to him – Lord, save me. And the promise – everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

 

Let’s now look at our Gospel reading where, again, we see faith at work in extraordinary circumstances. We have here a mother who is definitely not an Israelite. She is a Canaanite. Jesus himself acknowledges that: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. So again, like Peter, almost identical words – Lord, help me – Lord, save me. And even though Jesus seemingly rejects her request because she was not of the Israelite children of God – she falls back, not onto a family heritage – but on the promise of God that is irrevocable. Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 

The world is holding out for a vaccine to be produced by the scientific world for comfort. Until that day what do we do? Do we live in fear? What if a vaccine is years away? What if there’s not enough to go around?

Remember, it only took a perceived shortage of toilet paper to send people into a frenzy – even violence. But we as Christians have a far greater assurance – the promise of God who promised “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

 

Whether healing for our world, our nation, our state comes from a vaccine or from the miraculous healing of God’s hands – it is through prayer to our loving heavenly Father and his assurance that he will never leave us or forsake us because his promises are irrevocable. And that’s where we find our comfort. That means God can never go back on his promise to us. His promise to be with us always. His promise to assure our salvation.

His promise to love us unconditionally.

 

Yes there are times when I doubt this world and what is happening. That’s natural. But we must never doubt God’s almighty power and that he is Lord of Heaven and Earth. And that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The Canaanite woman did not give up her faith in Jesus even though the disciples kept urging Jesus to “Send her away” And it was these same disciples that said the very same thing to Jesus about the hungry crowds when they felt that their worldly provisions were not enough to feed them – “send them away”. They kept looking to their own strength which was not enough for the problems they faced. But God sends no one away. And even though it might seem like we are in a hopeless situation, nothing is impossible with God because hope does not disappoint us when our hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So let us keep persevering like this Canaanite woman urging Jesus to help us and trust that he is in control and is always in control and if God is on our side, who can be against us.